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Uses of Mpingo Within Africa

The current conservation status of Dalbergia melanoxylon/African blackwood/mpingo, is considered to be ‘near threatened’ as designated by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Large scale extraction for the music trade and wood manufacturing was initiated in Kenya in the 1800’s, and the species is now commercially extinct in that country due to over-exploitation. Although it grows in scattered populations in numerous areas of sub-Saharan Africa, only in Tanzania and Mozambique are its numbers of sufficient quantity for commercial purposes, thus concentrating international extraction in that area. This has left stands there vulnerable to possible future extinction, as happened in Kenya.

As happens frequently with international extraction of indigenous natural resources, it can be tricky within the country of origin to find a balance between local usage of a product and exportation. And indeed, many people within Africa rely on mpingo for their own livelihood needs, as described below.

Since the burgeoning of tourism in Eastern Africa, wood carving cooperatives have trained many skilled carvers to produce salable items for international visitors. Thousands of African families are being supported by this industry, but because of increased competition with foreign manufacturers, woodcarvers are experiencing difficulties in obtaining sufficient usable timber for their art.

Another widespread use of the tree within Africa is in the production of charcoal. Although this is an unfortunate utilization of the resource, it is not surprising on a continent on which 80% of energy use is based on wood resources. Villagers also use mpingo in construction and the making of utensils and tools, such as hoes and instrument handles.

The tree has numerous medicinal uses, again, hardly surprising in areas where most people cannot afford the services of a doctor. The roots can be used to treat abdominal pain and hernia. The bark from the root and the stem is an antidiarrhetic and the smoke of burning roots is inhaled to treat headaches and bronchitis. The juice from leaves can be used to treat sore throats, heart problems, dysentery, syphilis, and gonorrhea. A decoction of the bark is used for cleaning wounds. In some areas, the wood is boiled to produce a broth that is used to bathe all newborn babies. This is believed to impart strength.

The objective of the ABCP is to replant mpingo in areas where it will be protected for future generations, in order to replenish dwindling reserves. In the future these trees will offer a rich resource for western manufacturers and the people of Africa alike.

African Blackwood Conservation Project

P. O. Box 26 • Red Rock, TX 78662 • USA

So that

the song

of the

Tree of Music

will not go




ABCP Website maintained by James E. Harris, 2000.
Last revised 13 Oct 2009.