Tanzania wins international
award for saving mpingo

The Guardian, a Dar es Salaam newspaper
July 1, 2000
by Charles Nzo Mmbaga


Saturday, July 01, 2000
By Correspondent Charles Nzo Mmbaga, Minneapolis

A Tanzanian botanist has won an international award for his campaign to save and re-plant African Blackwood, mpingo, which is facing extinction in East Africa.

The Charles A and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation said yesterday that Sebastian Chuwa of the Mpingo Conservation Project in Moshi, Tanzania, has been awarded a 2000 Lindbergh Grant for his research project entitled, "Balancing Ecological Diversity with Art and Music-a Community-Based Program to Replant African Blackwood."

Mpingo, a valuable blackwood tree, botanically referred to as Dalbergia melanoxylon, is widely used in the wood carving industry and in musical instrument manufacture.

"It is widely harvested and now faces commercial extinction in East Africa," Chuwa said yesterday.
Thrilled by the award, he said he would continue with his campaign to re-plant the trees and raising awareness among Tanzanians.

Mpingo is the most highly valued traded timber in the world and is of cultural, ecological and economic significance where it grows.

An estimated 20,000 African Blackwood (mpingo) trees are harvested for commercial purposes each year. The wood is used by artists in carvings, to make some musical instruments, and it also provides a valuable source of income of Tanzania.

Once found in 20 African nations, harvestable stands of mpingo are now only found in Tanzania and Mozambique. The trees have a 70-200 year growth cycle to reach a commercially usable size, and it is estimated that only a 20-year supply of trees remain available for harvest in Africa.

For these reasons, James Harris, an ornamental turner from Texas, U.S.A., founded a joint conservation project with Sebastian Chuwa, The African Blackwood Conservation Project - ABCP.
Harris says: "I would feel a tragic loss to no longer be able to use this wonderful wood and so I feel a responsibility to our own and future generations to see that the mpingo tree survives and thrives." The African Blackwood Conservation Project was established as a grass-roots effort to restore the tree in its native land.

Chuwa, a botanist, raises and replants the Blackwood and educates young Tanzanians about its conservation and replenishment. He has focused much of his attention on attracting and educating young people by establishing Mpingo Clubs in local schools.

Chuwa also plans to develop educational films and training videos that will demonstrate how to gather seeds and document the germination and planting process. It is hoped that through these videos, he can teach local residents how to identify the tree and help protect it as a valuable resource, influence other towns in the area to set up similar projects, instruct how nurseries should be set up to raise the trees.

 

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