On the basis of ~10 years of field work, CPALI and its Malagasy Partner, SEPALI, have recently broadened their mission in response to the needs of the community they serve. The core mission stays the same: use entrepreneurship to create an economically self sufficient enterprise that maintains and enhances Madagascar's fragile, unique biological heritage. The increased breadth stems from the recognition that the original product, non-woven textiles made from the cocoons of wild silk moths, offers co-products that are immediately valuable to the farmers and their families. So, CPALI/SEPALI are building expertise in the served communities to benefit from the protein available in the excess pupae and the mushrooms that grow on the agricultural waste. The goal is the sort of integration that was key to the success of family farms that preceded industrial farming. At least as important has been the transition from a US leadership to Madagascar leadership with US consultation and marketing. Thus, CPALI is the rare nonprofit that is trying to put itself out of business by devolving responsibility onto a successor organization that is well positioned, geographically and culturally to succeed. Both organizations operate frugally, transparently and cooperatively.
Since its founding, 13 years ago, CPALI has strived to put itself out of business by devolving its mission onto those who are best positioned to connect the conservation of fragile ecologies with the development of vulnerable communities. Therefore, Cay Craig and her small team in the US helped launch and fund SEPALI, a remarkable, Malagasy NGO led by Mamy Ratsimbazafy. Over the past five years, SEPALI has built an enterprise of village-based farmers and artisans who, this year, will produce about 500 square meters of a unique, wild silk textile, using only the facilities in forests, villages and outskirts of Maroantsetra, Madagascar. Now, the US team is vigorously marketing the textile and devising a stream of products to connect sustainable development with art and fashion. Along the way, CPALI and SEPALI invented a series of novel practices (e.g., stepping stone conservation, a cocoon “bank”, and most recently—in collaboration with the Rogue Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society and the activist-chanteuse Razia Said—an art project for children who live near the Makira Protected Area).
It is clear to those us closest to CPALI that while, much remains to be done, both in Madagascar and in other areas, CPALI’s adaptive, tactful approach is effective. Please join us in supporting CPALI.
The magnitude of the deforestation and poverty in Madagascar is almost incomprehensible, but CPALI is addressing both of these issues, and even empowering women, all at the same time. They are doing everything you would wish a nonprofit would do: working with the local communities and letting them lead, making the program able to be self-sustaining by bringing in income, engaging the women of the community, adding programs as needs are identified, and even making a beautiful product to sell. We have been supporting CPALI for six years and plan to continue!
This is a very carefully considered project with an innovative spirit. They have achieved significant environmental and socioeconomic gains through strategic collaborations, local management, and dedication to a core philosophy. I would recommend looking to this organization as an exemplar in conservation. It has been a real pleasure to volunteer for the CPALI/SEPALI team for the past four years and to support the meaningful work they do.
Review from Guidestar
This is a wonderfully run organization driven by a lot of passion and loving heart! Really thoughtful program, and viable business approach. Love it
Review from Guidestar
Watching CPALI in the past 3 1/2 years, I have been so impressed with its development. The idea is simple: If local people get value from the forest, they won't cut it down, thus saving the myriad of rare species that live there. But it's not so simple to show the local people how valuable the forest is. CPALI's promotion of silk-worm farming and production of such amazing silk is growing fast. It is both alleviating poverty and conserving wildlife.
I was so impressed with an article I read in the Boston Globe that I sought out Cay and Bob to get more information about their work and also introduced them to a friend with years of experience in what major foundations would require before making major grants. In the last year or so, I've watched with pleasure as they've made huge strides toward taking off. Madagascar is an ecology on the edge; making protection of the forest economically rewarding for the people who live there is the secret to success. Fortunately, Cay's expertise in silk worms (a PhD in the field) helped her choose the right species to protect the forest and develop an ecologically sound industry.
My name is Nirina and I joined the SEPALI farmers group here in Ambinanitelo last year. It was really exciting for me to learn to sew the cocoons that are made by the silkworms, really exciting. The cocoon training allowed me to learn sewing techniques that I can apply to many different types of handicraft." - Nirina, CPALI farmer since 2011. Quote from video Interview, 2012.
"Before, the host tree had no use to us here. Then (SEPALI) came and showed us how to use our resources here in Madagascar and it brings me great happiness. I am in this group, not to plant trees, but to remind my group of the reason we need projects like this. It makes me happy to see Madagascar move forward and to see people from abroad taking an interest in our development. Things that had no use to us here before now have meaning. The work of SEPALI has blossomed in this community." - Trozona, Village Elder and honorary CPALI member since 2009. Video interview, 2012
"My name is Mr. Jaonary Jean. I live in Ambodivoangy. In 2009, I planted the trees you see here. There are about 260 trees here. In addition to using my land to rear silkworms, I also pasture my cows here and down below is my rice field. But of all my activities, rearing silkworms is my favorite because the silk worms can be very productive on these trees." -Jaonary Jean, CPALI farmer since 2009 in video interview, 2012.
Conservation through Poverty Alleviation Inc. (CPALI) is founded upon two basic principles: one, any conservation project in third world rural areas must address the poverty problems of the people living there, and two, the effort must be bottom up, not top down. In a remote area of Madagascar, where the traditional farming has been slash and burn, CPALI is working to get the farmers to take advantage of the country’s rich natural resources as a source of supplementary income. They have introduced raising silk worms and weaving silk textiles; in addition, they are exploring new sources of nutrition. The local farmers and women meet to organize and make decisions about where and how to concentrate their efforts. CPALI and a small staff have been providing supplies, training and support. The farming communities are adjacent to protected forest land. It has not been easy, entrepreneurship is not a part of their traditional culture, and progress has been slow, but there is a building momentum toward sustainability at this pilot site.
As a Board Member, I have been lucky to have the opportunity to work with Cay Craig and try to help make her vision a reality.
In 2011, I took the long boat trip to up river into the remote wilderness area of Madagascar to meet the CPALI farmers. I saw first hand the creative process of this project: The indigenous trees that had been planted to rear the moths and the ironing and assembling of moth cocoons into the end product. I saw a program with committed local leaders and strong community support. The Farmers had fully invested in the CPALI goals of protecting their rainforest environment and producing some beautiful and unique fabrics. They seemed genuinely proud of their success. I don’t know if CPALI will become a self-sufficient business venture, but it is an audacious, imaginative and dynamic. It is helping to safeguard the world’s most important and threatened ecosystem and it deserves significant and continued support. At the end of the day, if CPALI flourishes, everyone wins.
Madagascar has already suffered great environmental devastation. Destruction of forests, harmful farming practices, several unique species in danger of extinction . . . the list goes on. I donate to CPALI because it gives the delicate habitats of the island a shot in the arm, by encouraging Malagasys themselves not only to protect their environment but also to improve it. And in doing so, they benefit both financially and in terms of local pride.
After having lived in this region for 10 years, I can attest that this organization provides a novel opportunity for a win-win solution to the conservation and rural development issues that plague this area. With increased funding, there could be an increased capacity to pilot this work in several areas within the region. Community engagement and follow-up are key and they are working on their objectives with local community members so that they have a genuine stake in the work. Below, I was asked to mark how much of an impact this organization has-- I did not give a stellar rating because they haven't had ample time to finish their project. With increased funding and more work, their impact could be tremendous!
-Christopher Golden PhD, MPH
Harvard School of Public Health
This is an organization that truly touches my heart. I went out to Madagascar and have seen for myself the green spaces where trees are now growing, met the farmers who have joined together in this venture as a community, and felt the sense of pride that all share in what they are accomplishing. What CPALI is doing is nothing short of incredible.
CPALI is a magnificent partnership that works with agriculturalists in Madagascar to develop innovative projects, be compensated for their efforts, and preserve their unique environment at the same time. Its CEO, Cay Craig, is a visionary, biologist, and environmentalist who has spent a decade working tirelessly to create a remarkable enterprise with the most minimal resources. Her inspiring working relationship with her partners is built on mutual trust and respect. Dr. Craig's energy, commitment, and vision help make this project a model of sustainable development.
I echo the comments of Tsarabe. What makes CPALI different is the team's respect for the needs, desires, motivations, and knowledge of the farmers they work with. CPALI does not tell the farmers what to do, declare the project a success, and move on somewhere else. The CPALI team spent a long time interviewing farmers to find out whether they would be interested in the native silkworm-raising project, what they would need to get from the project in order to stick with it, and what stumbling blocks they saw. As the project has gone on, the team and the farmers have learned from each other and the team has responded to evolving farmer needs and input. More farmers and more villages are joining the project. The new projects involving pupae for protein and mushrooms are very promising, and it seems that various designers are increasingly interested in the project's textile. The goal is for the project to eventually be self-sustaining without CPALI support, and this would mean that farmers would have increased knowledge about how their local ecology works and can work for them, which in turn means that they will have little incentive to violate the protected area's borders. CPALI is now at the stage where it is possible to imagine this goal being achieved.
Dr. Cay Craig has amazing vision but also incredible realism. I am constantly amazed at how much CPALI has accomplished with so little money. Craig and the rest of the CPALI team have paid incredible attention to the needs of the farmers who have partnered in this conservation effort, taking careful account of the amount of effort farmers will need to invest and the other risks involved so that farmers can have a realistic view of what they are taking on. The farmers I met were very enthusiastic: they want to restore their forests, and the CPALI project offers them a realistic chance of doing so as well as a sustainable source of income. CPALI has also offered young Malagasy science graduates an opportunity to take on leadership roles, thereby investing in different levels of Madagascar's society. Product development and placement are finally reaching an exciting phase, with some leading designers taking a keen interest in the possibilities offered by this unique silk product.
I am in awe of Cay Craig's commitment and what she has accomplished on such a tight budget. The overall concept is very well thought out and avoids many of the pitfalls that have bedevilled developing economy aid projects. She has much to teach others contemplating similar ventures.
I have been contributing to the CPALI cause for about three years now, because it combines two vitally important goals: ecosystem preservation and reduction of poverty. Moreover, the organization works directly with silk farmers, without bureaucracy or overhead, to teach them the best practices. CPALI provides frequent and substantive updates about their ongoing projects, so that donors and volunteers stay connected with the organization. I work for a nonprofit fair trade organization, and am convinced that the only way to alleviate global poverty is, not through aid, but rather via organization such as CPALI which restore dignity and provide a means for people to earn a fair working wage.
I have the highest respect for the people at CPALI and their accomplishments. As a three-month volunteer, I witnessed a tireless work ethic, genuine desire to improve the lives of people around them and courage. I was in Madagascar at the early stages of CPALI's efforts. The challenges CPALI faced in establishing a novel wild cottage silk industry in such a remote place were daunting. Nothing was known about wild silk moths native to the area, rearing techniques needed to be developed, local people seemed to be resistant to change and knew nothing of silk production and the area in which they worked was remote even for the Malagasy staff. Supplies were difficult to locate, access to internet at the time was very limited and hurricanes were not uncommon. As a team, CPALI staff and director had the collective expertise, forethought and resilience necessary to tackle such challenges. Even though I was a temporary volunteer, CPALI staff respected my ideas and thoughts and made me feel like an integral part of the team. I saw them treat others similarly.
CPALI has recognized that the issues of environmental preservation and poverty alleviation are inextricably linked—to improve the habitat around subsistence farmers living near endangered habitats, the people need alternatives to traditional farming practices that could be accommodated by the pace of natural restoration, so long as population density was low. Starting from that premise, CPALI has invented, adapted and is now deploying technologies well suited to redress the ecological and economic conditions in Madagascar. It is a brave undertaking that has been pursued effectively by the whole CPALI organization, with important contributions from the beneficiaries who live near the Makira Protected area, the field team based in Maroantsetra, Madagascar, the design and commercialization team based in the US and scientific and commercial partners from around the world. Managing this far flung enterprise, in the face of the recent political unrest in Madagascar, has required diligent coordination, careful budgeting and skillful execution that is unusual in so young an organization.