Save Our Cedar – Saving Malawi’s national tree

Conservation problem
Malawi’s national tree, the Mulanje cedar, now only occurs naturally on Mulanje Mountain, and there are no mature individuals left due to overexploitation and fire.

Project Goal
Restore the Mulanje cedar on the mountain with support of local communities generate alternative sustainable income sources for communities in the area.

Why this species?

Malawi’s national tree – the Mulanje Cedar (Widdringtonia whytei) – occurs naturally only in the Mulanje Mountain Biosphere Reserve. Cedar forest cover has declined drastically in the last thirty years due to over-exploitation for timber (it is a preferred material for construction) and an increase in the frequency of fires. As a result, the tree is now Critically Endangered and at risk of extinction in its natural habitat if action is not taken immediately to restore it.

Since the Mulanje Cedar is a high value timber tree, the steep decline in populations has resulted in a loss of valuable income for the communities living around the mountain, an area with high population density and levels of poverty. An additional side effect from the loss of this previously dominant tree species is increased soil erosion and floods, due to rapid water run-off from the mountain during rainy seasons. Flash flooding resulted in the loss of 18 lives in 2016.


Mulanje Mountain

Mulanje Mountain. Photo credit: Kirsty Shaw/BGCI

What are we doing?

The project is jointly led by GTC, Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust and the Forestry Research Institute of Malawi, and works closely with local communities and officials.

We aim to generate new knowledge about Mulanje Cedar, restore populations of Mulanje Cedar on Mulanje Mountain and generate sustainable income sources for local people currently relying on harvesting timber from Mulanje Cedar trees. We have established community nurseries that generate a sustainable income from the sale and planting of Mulanje Cedar seedlings.

Activities acheived:

  • Established 10 community nurseries around Mulanje Mountain
  • Provided training in nursery management and enterprise development
  • Worked with international conifer experts to improve horticultural protocols for Mulanje cedar restoration
  • Identified the best places to plant Mulanje cedar on Mulanje Mountain and elsewhere in its previous range Malawi
  • Increased awareness of Mulanje cedar as a commercial timber species to create a national market for tree seedlings to be used for plantations

Activities in progress

  • Working with restoration experts from the Ecological Restoration Aliance of Botanic Gardens around the world to design and establish investigations to improve restoration practices
  • Resarching other sustainable livelihoods options for local people that use the Mulanje Cedar
  • Investigating other Mulanje mountain plant resources that could be used to support sustainable livelihoods
Mulanje Cedar Launch

Official launch of the project, Mulanje, June 2016

Key achievements

Community nurseries have been set up and nursery management and propagation training was delivered by Dan Luscombe, a conifer expert from Bedgebury Pinetum (UK). Almost 100 community members are working in the eight nurseries, which have propagated more than 500,000 Mulanje cedar seedlings to date, with many of these planted at sites back on the mountain. Monitoring plots at 5 sites of previous planting have been set up to investigate the conditions in which Mulanje Cedar seedlings have been growing best in order to inform future planting strategies.

In addition, eight test sites for planting Mulanje cedar have been established across Malawi to investigate if the cedar will grow well in areas outside the Mulanje Mountain Biosphere Reserve, with the ultimate aim to use the seedlings grown in the nurseries to restore an even wider area. We also launched an education campaign in collaboration with Bedgebury Pinetum and the NGO Starfish Malawi, teaching children in Malawi about the importance of conserving the Mulanje cedar.

For alternative livelihood options, Mulanje Cedar hedges have been planted in eight communities around Mount Mulanje with 200 community members trained in how to plant and managage them as well as in business skills. These may provide more benefits to people in the future.


Mulanje Cedar seedlings growing in a community nursery. Photo credit: Kirsty Shaw/BGCI

Contact details

For more information on this project, please contact


This project is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DfID) Darwin Initiative. Read the latest project update here.

Follow project progress on Twitter #SaveOurCedar




Did you know?

Islands have the highest proportion of threatened trees.

For example, 59% of Madagascar’s trees are threatened with extinction.