For the forest-dependent people of Southern Tanzania, the African blackwood tree has the potential to provide extraordinary income increases.
A recent harvest of African blackwood, carried out by one of the Sound & Fair partners, increased local incomes 400 times – that’s 40,000% over and above what the forest-dependent community would have earned in the past.
How has such a dramatic income increase been achieved?
- By providing people with rights – Participatory Forest Management
- By developing sustainable harvesting – Forest Stewardship Council®
- By enabling access to premium markets – Chain of Custody
African blackwood – Forest Dependent People
Forest-dependent people in Tanzania are amongst the poorest in the world with many families surviving on combined incomes of less than US$1 a day.
Village communities are remote, isolated and jobs are hard to find – instead people earn a living primarily from the natural resources of the forest.
African blackwood is one of the most valuable resources due to its use in the manufacture of woodwind musical instruments.
African blackwood – The Music Tree
African blackwood is like no other material when it comes to making woodwind instruments. The dense, resinous texture creates a superior quality of sound or tone and the wood is resistant to splitting or cracking.
On the outside, the African blackwood tree looks ordinary, often short and spindly – you certainly wouldn’t stop to marvel at it.
Strip away the bark however and something extraordinary is revealed: dark, lustrous heartwood, perfect for local wood carvers and for export to manufacturers of woodwind instruments, such as clarinets, oboes and bagpipes.
African blackwood – The Problem
Naturally something so valuable is very much in demand and African blackwood has already disappeared from many parts of East Africa.
The problem is that the forest doesn’t belong to the people living in it – it is ‘common land’ and belongs to the government. Forest-dependent people may have access to natural resources but that access isn’t always exclusive.
The problem of access becomes magnified when it comes to valuable natural resources such as African blackwood. People do not have the authority to prevent loggers coming into the forests around their villages and cutting the blackwood trees.
This lack of security in natural resource management leads to unsustainable harvesting – why should local people limit the number of trees they cut when they cannot stop other loggers coming in and exploiting the resource?
More trees are cut each year before reaching maturity, and over time, the number of trees declines.
The trees slowly disappear – forest-dependent people become poorer.