African Blackwood Conservation Project -- 2015
In last year’s newsletter we reported on the unexpected and untimely passing of Sebastian Chuwa, who inspired the formation of the African Blackwood Conservation Project because of his avid interest in the conservation of the embattled African blackwood tree. Through his public educational outreach and numerous tree planting initiatives he influenced many of his fellow countrymen to assist in efforts to insure the future viability of the species as an ecological and economic resource for both Tanzania and the international community. During the past year the work of the ABCP has been continued through the efforts of its new directors, Elizabeth Chuwa (Sebastian’s wife), their four children—Margaret, Michael, Flora and Cyril—and Elizabeth’s brother, Dismas Macha.
In addition to mpingo conservation Sebastian and Elizabeth organized grassroots initiatives directed towards protection and conservation of the Mt. Kilimanjaro watershed, which is of vital importance to the ecology of much of northern Tanzania. Decades of excessive tree cutting and decreasing rainfall accumulation from water runoff are affecting agricultural and household needs on the mountain, as well as those of the widespread population in the surrounding lowland.
Renovation at the Moshi Mpingo Plot
To remedy the situation they influenced local groups to start nurseries for reforestation on the mountain. They held training sessions to introduce conservation education into the local school curriculum and started student nurseries in schools of the area. A healthy ecosystem on Kilimanjaro assures that activities related to water needs, timber, livestock, agriculture and electricity will be met in communities over a wide area.
An initial project of the ABCP was construction of its original nursery shelter at the Moshi Mpingo Plot at Mijongweni, built in 1997 with private contributions. It was doubled in size in 2002 with funding from Sebastian’s Associate Laureate award from the Rolex Awards for Enterprise. In 2006 it was rebuilt, through a grant from the Cottonwood Foundation, with steel posts replacing its former wooden supports. This year, workmen were hired for another renovation, replacing any remaining wood in the framework with structural steel members (photo below). In order to insure continuing structural stability, each joint between the horizontal and vertical members was welded and reinforced with a bolted–on plate.
Mijongweni, the village where the nursery is located, is south of Moshi and Mt. Kilimanjaro, on a semi-arid lowland plain. This is the perfect environment for mpingo, but the tree has difficulty in getting established because of its vulnerability to environmental stresses during its seedling stage. Therefore to insure a good survival rate, a nursery shelter that offers protection from the direct sun during the midday heat gives the most optimal growing conditions for mpingo. Similarly, al-though the adult tree is drought tolerant, at the seedling stage it requires a regular supply of water and it is recommended that seedlings be kept in the nursery for the first eighteen months, after which they are better able to survive on their own.
Sebastian, through experimentation over many years, developed a specific methodology for germination, nurturance and transplanting of mpingo that gave him a high success rate of survival. He taught his methodology to many individuals and community conservation groups, who are also seeing a high success rate. This is countering a long-standing notion of many Tanzanians that the tree will only grow in the wild.
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Last revised 23 Nov 2015.