Palm Crosses: nothing to do with palm oil

Posted by Les Ellison  ·  Be the first to comment

As Palm Sunday approaches, churches are concerned to make sure their palm crosses are safe, chemical free and sustainably produced by people who will see real benefit without damaging their own environment.

Ethical and environmentally sound business practice is close to the heart of compassionate Christians. So the destruction of rainforest in much of South East Asia, to provide oils for the global cosmetics industry, is a serious concern.


Ethical palm cross manufacture

Irreplaceable rainforest, wildlife and ancient ways of life are being destroyed to create vast plantations of Elaeis guineensis - the African Oil Palm. Originating in tropical areas of that continent, this palm is mostly exploited as commercially grown hybrids.

Widespread monoculture, the unfairness of its trading, habitat destruction and degrading social impact are serious concerns for the Church. However, the industrialised Palm Oil plantations of southeast Asia have nothing at all to do with the rural and ethical manufacture of African Palm Crosses.


African Dwarf Palm and the Masasi

Palm crosses are nothing to do with the production of palm oil. African palm crosses are hand woven from the palm fronds of the African Dwarf Palm whose scientific name is Hyphaena Coriacia, native across the middle countries of Africa including southern Tanzania – home to the Masasi villagers.

Also know as the Molala, Lala Palm and Doum Palm, the source plant of African Palm Crosses is in the same biological family as the Oil Palm. Although it shares some of its characteristics, Oil Palms are not the native plants organically tended by the Masasi villagers.


Sustainable natural resource

Growing in low-altitude bush, Dwarf Palms often form mini forests of greyish green fan-shaped fronds. Rarely more that 5-7m tall, they can reach heights of up to 15m. New leaves grow out of a crown-heart that resembles the top pf a pineapple and is eaten as a vegetable known as 'gau'.

Dwarf Palm fruits are small with a tough shell around a thin, fibrous coat surrounding the seed. The pulp of the fruit can be pounded into pulp and baked into a sweet, gingery tasting bread.

The chief feature of the African Dwarf Palm is its long, tough and plentiful fern-like leaves. For as long as people have lived in the African forests and grasslands, African Dwarf Palms have supplied the raw materials for the manufacture of everyday items.


Self help for the poorest

In recent years, the western demand for ethnic handicrafts such as mats, bags and accessories woven from palm fronds have provided a new and much needed source of income for the villagers in some of Africa’s poorest and most deprived regions such as Southern Tanzania

Anything requiring strong, raw fibre can be woven or plaited from the stripped palm fronds. As a natural, non-endangered species, the African Dwarf Palm provides a natural, renewable, biodegradable and ethically sound material for the manufacture of African Palm Crosses.


Palm crosses and wildlife ecology

Dwarf Palms carefully tended for Palm Crosses provide natural homes for African palm swifts which nest underneath the leaves. Elephants feed on the crown shaped hearts while baboons and other animals eat and disperse the fruits.


African Palm Crosses for

All Masasi African palm crosses are hand woven without chemical treatment of the trees or their leaves. The absence of chemical treatment protects the Masasi village environment and makes the palm crosses safe for this Palm Sunday and ensures safe burnt ashes for next year’s Ash Wednesday.

In packs of 50 and 100 African palm crosses, African sourced palm crosses make a big difference to basic health and education provision in one of Africa’s most deprived and poverty hit districts.


Palm Crosses: the not-so-trivial files

Palm swifts have evolved a unique method of preventing the eggs from falling by gluing them in place with their saliva.

Quick Guide to African Palm Sunday Crosses

what are they?

  • Elegant, traditional palm crosses woven from natural, chemical free African palms.
  • Grown and distributed as part of a self-help programme in Southern Tanzania.
  • Your opportunity to connect with and support the welfare of Masasi villagers.

Over to You

At you can find a truly interactive Christian community helping you find all you need to live, learn and grow your faith.

An ethical business can’t exist in isolation. Even one ethical exchange can start an network of ethical businesses and business transactions. Churches are not only ideally placed but have a duty to find and support ethical businesses and business networks.

  • How do you think your church can encourage ethical business ensuring that all parties become partners in mutually supportive, growing networks?

Tell us. Post your ideas, views and tips – beautiful, bizarre and brilliant at

8th March

March 8th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Les Ellison

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