Music Saves Forests and People

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Temps de lecture : 3 minutes  

mpingo  kikole in front of mpingo tree devant un arbre mpingo dalbergia ebene du mozambique

Tanzanie, village de Kikole: Des villageois de Kikole se tiennent devant l’entrée de leur forêt, certifiée depuis début 2009 par FSC, l’une des dernières où poussent les arbres mpingo qui servent à fabriquer les cornemuses écossaises, les clarinettes et d’autres instruments en bois. © Mpingo Conservation Project

In Tanzania, two village populations have had their forest certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Not lightly given, the label of ‘community forest’ was earned with the help of British NGO, the Mpingo Conservation Project.

Music can melt hearts, and sometimes leads to the preservation of endangered forests. Two communities of foresters in Tanzania harvest and sell wood from a local tree, the Dalbergia – also known as the East African Blackwood – in a way eco-certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council). The species is much sought after in the West for the manufacture of instruments such as clarinets, oboes, recorders and bagpipes.

“It is the first time a local Tanzanian community has had the chance to truly benefit from its forest”, said Steve Ball, Tanzanian based coordinator for the Mpingo Conservation Project (mpingo is the Swahili name for the East African Blackwood tree). Set up in 2004, the NGO has helped some 2 500 inhabitants of the villages Kikole and Kisangi, in the south-east of Tanzania, to devise a sustainable management plan of their forest. Thanks to the certification of “ethical wood”, introduced in April 2009, the villagers will be able to sell each tree trunk for a price of 19 dollars “instead of 0.08 before the certification”, explains Steve Ball.

Calculations from samples measure the impact of forestry on the soils, the absence of chemical products, and take into account the natural regeneration of the forest and boundaries of areas that have not been forested. Over a two and a half year period, inspectors went through more than 2 000 hectares of forests with a fine tooth-comb, charged with ensuring the compliance of the FSC criteria, of which there are more than 100. The FSC is the main international organisation for certification of sustainable wood, and is supported by the major environmental organisations.

The Mpingo project “has taught us a lot about the way in which our forests must be managed”, said Mwinyimkuu Awadhi, chief of the Kikole village, in a National Geographic article. Even if the rules are softened “on a case by case basis”, the strict demands of the FSC explain why very few community forests are certified. “We would like there to be more, but unfortunately, it is often illiterate populations who are not good at setting up management plans on their own. This is where NGOs come in”, explained Marie-Christine Fléchard, FSC director for the United Kingdom and Africa. Between now and 2010, the Mpingo Conservation Project hopes to have 10 000 hectares certified.

The desire to go and help small local communities in East Africa came to Steve Bell, professor of ecology, in 1995 during a study of ground tracking. He discovered there that the illegal trade of precious wood is rampant. “Around 96% of the wood exported from south-east Tanzania was felled illegally”, he said. “And I don’t think that the multiple prohibitions on felling proffered by the government are a solution, as they penalise legal operators more than the others”.

The East African Blackwood is the preferred species of sculptors from the Makonde ethnic group, but this tree is one of the most difficult to cultivate because of its slow growth rate: it needs between 70 and 100 years before its trunk reaches 35cm in diameter. Rich in oil and extremely dense, the East African Blackwood is worth 18 000 dollars per metre cubed that is exported. Over-logging has cause the near-extinction of the species that was once found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. But art provides a good reason to conserve the forests; and gives the people living there a means to live.

Mpingo Conservation Project

Temps de lecture : 3 minutes  

mpingo conservation project

Lancée en 1995 par un spécialiste de l’écologie de l’Université de Cambridge, l’association Mpingo Conservation Project aide les populations rurales du sud-est de la Tanzanie à gérer durablement leur forêt. En les accompagnant dans la certification par le FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), l’ONG (statut acquis en 2004) permet aux paysans tanzaniens de vivre de leurs ressources forestières, notamment en ébène du Mozambique, une essence rare et réputée chez les luthiers et les musiciens d’Occident.

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