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African Blackwood Forests Certified for Sustainable Harvest

Video by Mpingo Conservation Project

Two communities in Tanzania have obtained the first Forest Stewardship Council certification for community-managed natural forest in Africa.

Certification by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international, not-for-profit, membership-based organization that promotes responsible management of the world’s forests, entitles the faremers to use a logo and product label (see details below) that helps consumers worldwide support sustainable harvesting.

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Working through the Mpingo Conservation Project (MCP), the Tanzanian communities will strive to harvest and sell African Blackwood (also known as mpingo), a slow growing tree which is highly prized for making clarinets, oboes and bagpipes.

“Some of the world’s poorest people have achieved international recognition for responsible forest management, and a golden opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty, through selling responsibly harvested timber for musical instruments,” UK-based conservation organization Fauna & Flora International said in a news statement.

“This landmark achievement will enable the communities to earn 250 times more from their woodlands–by managing them responsibly–than they have done previously…The FSC certificate will enable communities to earn upwards of U.S.$19 per log compared to 8 cents they received before the MCP began working with them.”

Under the system of Participatory Forest Management, which is enshrined in Tanzanian law, communities can take over ownership and control of their local forests from the government, allowing them to profit from timber sales, as long as they manage the forests sustainably, FFI said. “However, with illegal logging widespread, there is a need to differentiate timber coming from community forests from other sources if communities are to receive a fair price; the new FSC certificate does that.”

Historic First for Africans


A small collection of villages in south-east Tanzania have been working with the Mpingo Conservation Project since 2004 to achieve this historic first for African people, offering new hope for the twin goals of poverty alleviation and forest protection on the continent, FFI added in its release.

“Previously we just used blackwood without thought, but we have learnt that it is a valuable resource. Now we see that we can utilise our stocks to benefit us all as villagers,” said Mwinyimkuu Awadhi, Chairman of Kikole village.

Local farmer, Mwanaiba Ali Mbega, added: “When we started this project we began to see the benefits that could arise from managing our forests. Now we have reached the stage of certification we are confident we are going to bring long term benefits that we will be able to pass on to our grandchildren.”

The first timber will be harvested by the villagers from this month. The wood must then be properly dried, a process which takes at least one year, and it is expected that the first FSC-certified blackwood instruments will be available sometime in 2011.

The Mpingo Conservation Project (MCP) aims to conserve endangered forest habitats in East Africa by promoting sustainable and socially equitable harvesting of valuable timber stocks, and with a particular focus on mpingo–the African Blackwood tree.

“African Blackwood…has long been over-harvested across the continent to obtain its dark, lustrous heartwood,” FFI said. “The wood is greatly prized for its strong structural qualities by local wood carvers and international manufacturers of woodwind instruments.

“Although African Blackwood is still relatively abundant in South-East Tanzania, illegal logging is widespread and very poor, forest-dependent communities generally receive little benefit from logging on the land around their villages.”

Between 7,500 and 20,000 African Blackwood trees are felled for musical instruments each year.

Additional information:

Forest Stewardship Council

Mpingo Conservation Project

Sound & Fair (sustainable blackwood campaign)

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Graphic courtesy Forest Stewardship Council