The paper making area is headed up by Josephat, one of the founding members of Neema Crafts, he has a truly profound story of how working for Neema changed his whole identity. Day by day, Josephat has to work hard to keep up with demand for our popular hand-made paper including large orders from clients such as Karama (who buy our paper covered note books) and Chocolate Mamas (for whom we make the outer packaging for their premium Tanzanian chocolate).
Josephat makes two types of paper, using locally sourced recycled materials, maize leaf and elephant dung paper.
Maize leaves are mixed with waste paper (from local schools and offices). The leaves are cooked for a whole day to soften them, before being mashed in a large pulping machine. The waste paper is soaked, torn and pulped, before being mixed 50-50 with the pulped maize leaves. Dye is added to the pulp for coloured papers at this point. The maize-paper pulp is then added to a large vat of water, and the sheets are formed on silk screens, called moulds. The mould is scooped down into the watery pulp in the vat, then lifted up so that the water falls through the mesh and the maize-paper fibres form a sheet on top. This wet sheet of paper is then turned onto a metal sheet, and the mould is lifted off, leaving the wet paper on the metal to dry. The following day the dry sheet of paper is lifted off the metal and is ready to be screen-printed and made into packaging, cover a book or make a picture frame etc. Magic!
The ele poo paper really is made from elephant dung, sourced from just outside the Ruaha National Park. Many visitors stay at the various game lodges on the edge of the park and kindly pass on to us the inevitable deposits of elephants that like to drink from their swimming pools at night!
Once at Neema, the ele poo is washed (very well!) and processed in the same way as the maize leaves. Cooking it for a whole day with a small amount of alkaline softens and sterilizes it. If you think about it, using elephant dung to make paper isn't so strange - standard paper is made from trees, which is just what elephants eat. They are just like a big paper-pulping machine, chewing up the tree fibres for us to make into paper!
The problem with the elephant dung paper is that when pulp from waste paper is added, the bleach turns the final product to an unappealing grey colour. To counter this, we collect the waste from the tea manufacturing process from a fair trade tea factory in the nearby Mufindi tea estates and use this to dye the waste paper pulp, making it the ultimate ethical product!
Hand-made paper is perfect for our context as it is low technology, environmentally friendly, uses free waste materials and has lots of different stages so everyone in a mixed ability group can take part in at least one part of the process. Our customers love the hand-made and organic look, feel and even smell (!) of our paper which can be put to so many uses.