29 Oct 2009


New FSC certificate for African Blackwood heralds a brighter future for rural Tanzanians and ethical woodwind instruments.

Some of the world’s poorest people have achieved international recognition for responsible forest management, and a golden opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty, through selling responsibly harvested timber for musical instruments

ImportTwo communities in Tanzania, working through the Mpingo Conservation Project (MCP), have obtained the first certificate for community-managed natural forest in Africa. This landmark achievement will enable the communities to earn 250 times more from their woodlands – by managing them responsibly – than they have done previously.

The certificate is awarded by the international body, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which promotes responsible management of the world’s forests.

The main timber that will be harvested and sold internationally by the Tanzanian communities is African Blackwood (also known as mpingo), a slow growing tree which is highly prized for making clarinets, oboes and bagpipes. The FSC certificate will enable communities to earn upwards of US$19 (£13) per log compared to 8 cents (5 pence) they received before the MCP began working with them.

Under the system of Participatory Forest Management (PFM), which is enshrined in Tanzanian law, communities can take over ownership and control of their local forests from the government, allowing them to profit from timber sales, as long as they manage the forests sustainably. However, with illegal logging widespread, there is a need to differentiate timber coming from community forests from other sources if communities are to receive a fair price; the new FSC certificate does that.

A small collection of villages in south-east Tanzania have been working with MCP since 2004 to achieve this historic first for African people, offering new hope for the twin goals of poverty alleviation and forest protection on the continent.

Mr Mwinyimkuu Awadhi, Chairman of Kikole village, comments: “previously we just used blackwood without thought, but we have learnt that it is a valuable resource. now we see that we can utilise our stocks to benefit us all as villagers.”

Local farmer, Mwanaiba Ali Mbega (female), adds: “when we started this project we began to see the benefits that could arise from managing our forests. Now we have reached the stage of certification we are confident we are going to bring long term benefits that we will be able to pass on to our grand-children.”

The first timber will be harvested by the villagers in May/June this year. The wood must then be properly dried, a process which takes at least one year, and it is expected that the first FSC-certified blackwood instruments will be available sometime in 2011.


1. The Mpingo Conservation Project (MCP) aims to conserve endangered forest habitats in east Africa by promoting sustainable and socially equitable harvesting of valuable timber stocks, and with a particular focus on mpingo – the African Blackwood tree – which is used to make clarinets, oboes and bagpipes.

2. The Forest Stewardship Council’s forest certification standard is recognised as the global gold standard for responsible forest management. Most FSC-certified forests are commercially-owned temperate or boreal forests; few are in the tropics, and even fewer are community-owned. MCP has been awarded certificate no. SA-FM/COC-002151 by FSC; it covers 2,420ha of forest at this initial stage.

3. The African Blackwood tree has long been over-harvested across the continent to obtain its dark, lustrous heartwood. The wood is greatly prized for its strong structural qualities by local wood carvers and international manufacturers of woodwind instruments. Although African Blackwood is still relatively abundant in south-east Tanzania, illegal logging is widespread and very poor, forest-dependent communities generally receive little benefit from logging on the land around their villages.