t2 Partner Afrika

Marie-Sar Agencies (MSA), Kampala Uganda

Sara Katebalirwe founded Marie-Sar Agencies (MSA), then a garment designing concern, in 1985.

Competition from imported garments and materials rendered this unsustainable and in 2000, Sara identified the then unexplored niche of bark cloth, an indigenous fabric, locally made in Uganda.


She started with only 2 products and worked alone, now the company has 17 full-time production workers and more than 70 home-working artisans; a range of more than 50 products under the Mutuba label; employing various surface design techniques, and is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO). See the Marie-Sar fair trade policy down here.


Bark cloth is processed from Ficus nantalensis a fig tree species locally called Mutuba. Using ancient, traditional and cultural processes that pre-date weaving, cloth production constitutes of harvesting (bark removal and tree protection); processing (beating with wooden mallets and stretching); and sun-drying. Mutuba trees are indigenous and can be harvested annually for up to 40 years, yielding up to 200 sq. m of cloth individually.


The cloth comes in different qualities, gauges, sizes shades of brown (cream-brown to a dark rusty-brown) depending on tree species, time of harvesting, workmanship and exposure to sunlight. In 2005, Uganda’s bark cloth was proclaimed by UNESCO

a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity.

This honor and recognition of indigenous textile production skills of Ugandan craftsmen raised the profile of bark cloth.


Unique Innovation


Bark cloth is multi-layered and naturally fragile, with a weak linear structure that is prone to stretching, tearing, abrasion and peeling; and a short life-span if put to continuous use in its original state. Raffia couching is a new technique, applied by closely interspacing raffia cords (raffia cord couching); combining surface design and color addition to the fabric, giving it stability and a protective layer in tone-on-tone or vibrant shades.


This design technique is peculiar to MSA products. Printing and hand stitching provide protection but cord couching has proven so far to give products the longest life-span (6-8 years). Furthermore barkbeads, bark cuttings and bark twisted cord have been developed and are made out of small, left over bark cloth bits, fully utilizing the cloth.


Our Values and Mission



  • Responsibility towards environment and society through ethical production and adherence to WFTO fair trade principles
  • Capacity building along the supply chain
  • Creation of employment opportunities
  • Delivery of high quality products


To realize business growth through commitment to revitalize the supply value chain; generate alternative employment; develop new technologies and raw material applications; build and upgrade skills and capacity; while being accountable to our stakeholders in the distribution channel and environmental management.



The artisans Marie-Sar works with are mostly without formal academic qualifications or skills and are left out of employment. Further more, women in rural settings do not have access to land. These women are also care-givers and in most instances cannot work full-time or away from home.


They are given the opportunity of acquiring skills to engage in income generating activities and contribute to household incomes. These opportunities are availed to them in their usual environment. They make up the more than 70 home-working artisans engaged by Marie-Sar, performing the delicate hand stitching and raffia cord twisting that is peculiar to Marie-Sar products.


MSA has embarked on a raw material assurance program with regard to bark cloth and raffia. This involves getting farmers on board in a program that includes planting of selected mutuba (bark cloth) trees species as well as raffia palms, training in good tree management practices and appropriate drying and storing methods and systems, and raising environmental awareness among the farmers.


By securing contracts with farmers who will prove dedicated to improving their quality and quantity, future supplies of raw materials whose demand is growing by the day, is assured. While creating rural employment opportunities, this process could be expanded further to generate alternative incomes through carbon credits sales, and tourist attraction to the bark cloth harvest.


Social Impact

The training program's social impact is five fold;

  • alternative income generation
  • better land utilization
  • skills acquisition
  • raising of awareness about environmental issues
  • and the resulting mobilizing of participants.


Bark cloth tree cultivation is part of traditional agro-forestry systems in Uganda. Tree management techniques and processing are traditional and cultural activities; which when upgraded create alternative incomes and benefits, such as cultural tourism and carbon credits.


Mutuba trees are interplanted in banana and coffee plantations and farmers use land already under cultivation but previously underutilized. No extra costs are then incurred by farmers as cuttings required for planting are readily available in the community.


Additionally, the training contributes to documentation and strengthening of cultural and traditional institutions surrounding bark cloth.


Artisans in rural settings do not have access to land and are engaged in subsistence work, although they perform more than 80% of the farming activities. These are equipped with skills that enable them to construct half-products, utilizing materials found in their environment, thus contributing to household incomes. Training and associated activities have mobilized participants into co-operative and other organizations, for advocacy and other purposes.


“Celebrating indigenous textile craftsmanship”

Trendy mutuba bark cloth gifts and home accessories by Marie-Sar are brought to market through processes that incorporate farmer training in tree planting and artisan skills building; to protect the heritage and generate alternative rural incomes. Innovatively raffia-couched for a longer life-span, products are functional, aesthetic and exclusive.


Fair Trade Policy

Marie-Sar Agencies Limited (MSA) is committed to supplying gift, home decor, and fashion and office accessories, made out of bark cloth and other natural materials; that have been safely and ethically manufactured.



This Fair Trade Policy defines MSA minimum standards.
This policy applies to the Organization (MSA) and, (not exclusively) raw material suppliers, traders, artisans/home-workers or organizers of production that in any way forms part of the chain of supply to MSA, referred to forthwith as Suppliers.
Suppliers are responsible for ensuring all their sub-contractors and suppliers (including labour, materials or goods and services) used in relation to products provided to MSA comply with this Fair Trade Policy.
Methods of production used by MSA and Suppliers must not involve exploitation or endanger health and safety of any persons or the environment. MSA regards exploitation of children as especially unacceptable and reserves the right not to trade with Suppliers who are at variance on this issue.


Obeying Legal Requirements

MSA is committed to, and requires all Suppliers to fully obey the laws of Uganda. This includes (but not exclusively) all laws related to employment, safety, the environment and business operations. All standards outlined in MSA's Fair Trade Policy are expected to be followed in addition to relevant local legislation.
MSA is committed to, and will do business with Suppliers who strive to comply with the standards below:



Child Labour

Suppliers shall not use child labour. Due to their vulnerability, MSA believes that children deserve extra protection from exploitation and adheres to the UN Convention on the rights of the Child and Ugandan law on the employment of children. Children should have the opportunity, where possible, to participate in an education up to the compulsory age limit deemed by local laws. Any involvement of children in the production (including learning of a traditional art or craft) should always be disclosed and monitored and should not adversely affect the children’s well-being, security, educational requirements and need for play. MSA supports participation in legitimate apprenticeship or trainee programs to educate and assist students (e.g. 10–16 year olds) and legitimate casual work where appropriate, providing the work is light in nature, is performed in safe conditions and does not involve exploitation.

Forced/Compulsory Labour

MSA ensures that there is no forced labour in its workforce. The decision to work must be freely chosen by all workers. Supplier shall not use compulsory or involuntary labour, slavery or debt bondage. Workers must be genuinely free to terminate their employment at any stage with reasonable notice.

Gender Equity

MSA provides for men and women to develop their skills and actively promotes application from women for job vacancies and leadership positions in the organization. MSA takes into account the special health and safety needs of pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers. Suppliers are expected to do the same.

Appropriate Pay and Benefits

MSA pays all workers equally for the same amount of work. Women are always paid for their contribution to the production process. Women are allowed to undertake work according to their capacity.

Hours of Work

Ordinary hours of work shall be consistent with local legislation. All overtime must be voluntary and without coercion and should be duly paid in accordance with the agreed conditions of employment and Uganda’s labor laws.


Discrimination and Harassment

MSA believes that all people must be treated equally and with dignity and respect. Suppliers will not use (either actual or implied) any physical, sexual, emotional forms of harassment, abuse, discipline or intimidation with any of their workers.
MSA and its Suppliers do not discriminate in hiring, remuneration, access to training, promotion, termination or retirement. A worker's ability to do the job determines their employment and all associated conditions, rather than discrimination based on non work-related factors, such as race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, HIV/Aids status, age, personal situations or beliefs.

Freedom of Association

MSA and Suppliers should respect the right for all employees to form and join trade unions of their choice and to bargain collectively. Workers must not be disadvantaged or prevented from forming or joining communities which raise issues relating to mutual protection and dignity in wages and working conditions


Environment, Health & Safety

MSA and Suppliers will provide a clean and safe workplace, including providing plant, equipment and work processes that do not pose a risk to the health and safety of their workers. Staff must also receive adequate training and supervision to ensure their safety.
Of specific concern with regard to worker safety is the provision of adequate emergency facilities such as:

  • Appropriate fire fighting equipment maintained and available on-site,
  • A sufficient quantity of operating clearly marked emergency exits which are not locked or obstructed.

Other important safety standards include:

  • Machinery must have appropriate guarding to ensure safety of workers.
  • Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) must be made available to workers at no personal cost.
  • Suppliers shall provide clean toilets, clean drinking water and, if appropriate, hygienic kitchen facilities to its workers.

Environmental standards:

  • MSA and Suppliers are required to comply with all applicable local and national environmental laws, and to endeavour to meet relevant international environmental standards.


Business Ethics

MSA values and promotes a high standard of honesty, integrity, respect, fairness and professionalism in their business ethics. We also expect our Suppliers to follow equivalent standards in their operations. Bribes, favours, inappropriate gains or other illegal or improper payments, whether in cash or otherwise, are strictly forbidden, whether or not they are offered with the intention of securing trade with MSA.


Implementation and Monitoring of the Fair Trade Policy

MSA (and its representatives) reserve the right to visit Supplier work places or facilities with or without prior notice to ensure adherence to this Policy. Breaches of this policy will be registered with the Supplier's management for investigation and action as appropriate.
If deemed appropriate, action taken by MSA may include ceasing trade with the relevant Supplier.

Marie-Sar Fair Trade policy formulated July 2012