Expanding Sustainable Timber in Tanzania

A forest in Ethiopia's Bale Mountains National Park. In Africa, 7.3 million hectares (about 18.2 million acres) have so far been designated as FSC-certified — a land area larger than Sierra Leone.

There are many negative environmental impacts of globalization — increased pollution, depleted natural resources and an overtaxed food system, to name a few. However, the expanding connections between remote communities and the global market also present new opportunities for consumers worldwide to have a direct, positive impact on the distant ecosystems that provide many of their products.

In 2004, a grant from the Conservation Leadership Programme — a partnership of four global environmental organizations, including CI — officially launched the Mpingo Conservation Project (now called the Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative) to protect southeastern Tanzania’s coastal forests. This month, the organization was instrumental in expanding the country’s certified sustainable forest by more than 700 percent — a promising sign for the future of local ecosystems and communities.

The East African blackwood tree (Dalbergia melanoxylon) — known as mpingo in Swahili — may sound exotic to people outside Africa, but chances are you’ve seen it. Its wood is prized for use in musical instruments like clarinets and bagpipes, as well as the traditional sculptures seen in African villages and on Western city streets. However, unregulated logging has seriously depleted much of the tree’s native habitat, posing a threat to the local economy as well as the species that dwell in these forests.

Earlier this month, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) designated two new tracts of timber forest as sustainably managed, bringing the country’s total sustainable forest area to 17,151 hectares (42,381 acres). With this new FSC certification, local communities will reap a much higher profit for logging on their land; with the first mpingo harvest in the village of Kikole last year, the community earned roughly 400 times their previous incomes.

And here’s a grace note: At the end of this month, one of the organization’s manufacturing partners will launch an FSC-certified clarinet — the first of its kind in the world.

The Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) is a partnership of Conservation International, BirdLife International, Fauna & Flora International and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Learn more about CLP’s work with the Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative.

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