First FSC certified community managed natural forests in Africa

Posted on by Amy Hinsley

Two communities in Tanzania, working through Global Trees Campaign partners the Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative, have obtained the first certificate for community-managed natural forest in Africa. This landmark achievement will enable the communities – through responsible forest management – to earn 250 times more from their woodlands 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 Dalbergia melanoxylon, a small heavily branched tree that is widespread in sub-saharan Africa. It produces a very valuable timber known locally as mpingo, which is exploited nationally for carvings and local subsistence use.

Mpingo has also long been traded internationally, primarily for use in woodwind instruments such as clarinets, oboes and bagpipes. The level of harvesting is such that, despite its wide distribution, there is considerable concern over its status in the wild.

Since the early 1990s, The Global Trees Campaign has promoting the use of responsibly sourced timbers, including Mpingo, in musical instruments. 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 Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative (MCDI) began working with them.

Under the system of Participatory Forest Management, 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 the MCDI 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 grandchildren.”

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.

Written by Amy Hinsley

Amy has a background in botanical conservation and worked for the Global Trees Campaign for over three years before completing a PhD on the international trade in orchids. She is now working on wildlife trade (with a botanical focus) at UNEP WCMC.


  1. Brian Berry on

    Ms. Hinsley, I am seeking a source for leaves of Dalbergia Melanoxylon. Anecdotally they have promise, when taken as a tisane, for leaching out iron from liver and brain tissue, a method being explored in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. Are you aware of possible sources for these leaves?

    Thank you.

    1. Kirsty Shaw on

      Hi Brian, you can use BGCI’s PlantSearch database to find out how many botanic gardens around the world hold this species in their collections. They may have conducted research on the species as well. You can send a blind request to the institutions requesting information and/or plant material.
      Sustainable harvesting is obviously a must for this species. The Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative is still running in Tanzania. I’m sure they will be happy to provide more information.


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