The Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative
This project, after 2010, called the Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative (MCDI) has gone through several name changes as its mission has evolved. First known as the Cambridge Mpingo Project, it was renamed in March 2004 as the Mpingo Conservation Project before it took its present name as MCDI. Starting as a research project taken by UK graduate students, the project has grown into an important resource in mpingo conservation in southern Tanzania.
The MCDI aims to conserve endangered forests in southern Tanzania by promoting sustainable and socially equitable harvesting of mpingo and other valuable timber stocks. Their work spans three major aspects: community forestry, awareness-raising, and focused field research. MCDI has achieved Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification on harvested wood from communities they assist. This is an important milestone, representing the first FSC certified African Blackwood available to the international wood market.
Some early history of the project, as it was written around the year 2000, follows.
The March 1999 Issue No. 7 of SoundWood reported on this research project, and it was also profiled in an article from the Dar es Salaam Guardian newspaper by Mr. Charles Mmbaga, of British Petroleum, Tanzania, titled "BP Tanzania Joins Campaign to Save Mpingo" which is reprinted on this site.
SoundWood, a publication of Fauna & Flora International, stated that "The Cambridge Mpingo Project exists to facilitate long term research into Dalbergia melanoxylon, concentrating on obtaining quantitative data on the ecology of the tree and the impact of exploitation. The aim is to support a ten-year research program conducted through two principal means: student expeditions from Cambridge University, and funding ongoing research at other times of the year by Tanzanian foresters and students.
Two expeditions have so far been undertaken by Cambridge students in collaboration with Dar Es Salaam University and the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania. In the first expedition, Tanzanian Mpingo 96, a detailed botanical survey was undertaken close to the village of Mchinga in the Lindi region of Southeast Tanzania and meetings were held with local people to discover their knowledge of and attitudes towards Mpingo. The second expedition Tanzanian Mpingo 98 covered a larger area of forest throughout Lindi and produced valuable results on the ecology of the species. Further detailed discussions were held with local villagers."
After the Soundwood report mentioned above was published, the third expedition, Tanzanian Mpingo 99, was led by Lucinda Bevan of Cambridge University in the summer of 1999. This expedition went to Nachingwea in Southern Tanzania to look into the socio-economic context in which logging occurs. For approximately two months the team talked to villagers to find out how they value the tree in both economic and less quantifiable terms.
TM99 concluded that "...mpingo has both an economic and socio-cultural role within the lives of the villagers. It is often favoured as a wood for firewood, building, making certain household implements and medicine. Its medicinal usage is unique, extensive and culturally very significant as, for example, all newly born babies must be washed in the leaves to ensure they grow strong. It also generates a substantial income for those involved in logging although the general consensus appears to be that the villagers benefit least from the logging and that the money goes primarily to the sawmill owners and the government."
Steve Ball, of The Mpingo Conservation Project (MCP, formerly known as the Cambridge Mpingo Project), was co-leader of both Tanzanian Mpingo 96 and Tanzanian Mpingo 98 and has published reports on all three expeditions on the MCDI website. Steve has also provided 2 photographs taken during the last expedition, a version of the expedition team photo shown above with a larger field of view and the other of an archetypal mpingo tree. All rights to the photos reside with The Mpingo Conservation Project (now MCDI). Use the Back button on your browser to return to this page from the above two links.
The foregoing history gives the background that led to the founding of the current project. The work of the MCDI represents the best current scientific studies of the species Dalbergia melanoxylon available. The contributions of this research to the scant knowledge base about mpingos are much needed and welcomed by all who care about this tree. The reports on the MCDI website are a valuable resource, containing full descriptions of the scientific methods used in evaluating mpingo stocks in the study areas and are required reading for anyone interested in the current status of mpingo in Tanzania.
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