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"Never doubt
that a small
group of
citizens can
change the
Indeed, it is
the only
thing that
ever has."

• Margaret  Mead •

In 1996 the first ABCP nursery was started in a fenced field donated to the work by a friend of Sebastian's. A nursery attendant was hired and trained in the proper care of mpingo. Several thousand seedlings were planted over the next two years and successively repotted into larger containers as they increased in size.

In the fall of 1998 work began on another piece of land, a one acre plot donated to the project by the village of Moshi, called the ABCP Moshi Mpingo Plot. It was fenced and cleared as needed to allow transplanting the first group of mpingo saplings in shallow irrigation channels which were dug to capture Tanzania’s seasonal rains. The intent for this piece of land is to serve both as an experimental research project and nursery for raising trees.

Here blackwood is being interplanted with a few other species to emulate a natural woodland   environment. Observations will be conducted about growth and regeneration and conclusions will be gathered about the feasibility of raising mpingo in a planned and cultivated environment, something which has never been attempted on a large scale.


• Background & History of the ABCP •

The purpose of the African Blackwood Conservation Project (ABCP) is to develop a grass-roots, direct action program to insure the long term survival of the African Blackwood, or mpingo tree. Since there have been few studies of either mpingo dispersal or its range of exploitation, government and regulatory agencies have hesitated to regulate its use. However, based on present consumption, projections estimate that in Tanzania most of the mature trees will be depleted within 20 years.

African Blackwood is used in several major ways: by the music industry for woodwind instruments — clarinets, flutes, oboes and bagpipes, by the Makonde, a group of indigenous African woodcarvers, by western woodworkers who practice a lathe technique called Ornamental Turning, for specialized woodworking functions such as knife handles and for subsistence needs within Tanzania.

Mr. Sebastian Chuwa is a Tanzanian botanist who has spent 25 years studying the wildlife of Africa. He is alarmed not only at the high rate of mpingo removal but also at its growing inability to establish young and viable trees in the wild to replace those which are being harvested. Habitat loss from increased population pressures, uncontrolled agricultural burning and increasing cycles of drought have all contributed to the demise of a young mpingo population.

In 1996 Mr. Chuwa and Mr. James Harris, an Ornamental Turner from Texas, started the ABCP. The intent was simple: Mr. Harris would raise money among the woodworkers and instrument makers of the western world and send it to Mr. Chuwa to start a nursery to raise mpingo seedlings. These would be nurtured until they were of sufficient age to withstand fire and drought damage. Then they would be replanted into the wild. Mr. Chuwa has raised over 100,000 seedlings of mixed species in the past decade. In addition he has begun educational programs to teach his countrymen about the value of the tree to influence both its conservation and replanting. His mpingo youth clubs have already planted thousands of trees.

All of the donated funds raised by the ABCP are sent directly to Mr. Chuwa. Mr. Harris donates his time, as well as the printing and postage costs for the fundraising campaign.

Mpingo Clubs

Sebastian and his wife Elizabeth, who is a teacher in Moshi, are greatly respected in the Moshi/Arusha area. Their lifelong commitment to conservation has inspired them to establish 31 youth clubs in the schools of the area

The Chuwa’s have developed a successful method of attracting young people into their clubs by establishing programs in 3 different areas. 1) They offer athletic activities — soccer and volleyball, 2) they teach the principles of conservation and plant identification, and 3) they offer practical training by showing each club how to start and maintain a tree nursery, seeding plants indigenous to that particular area and eventually transferring them back into a natural habitat. The clubs they have organized average 300 members each. Since the founding of the ABCP Sebastian has begun to organize Mpingo Clubs which focus specifically on the care and conservation of mpingo. These clubs are not only helping Sebastian with work started by the ABCP, but each has started its own mpingo nursery, thereby augmenting the outreach of the project.


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7-day old mpingo plants at Moshi Nursery

In the winter rainy season of late 1998 to early 1999, work began on transplanting the mature mpingo seedlings raised in the nursery. Dozens of Moshi residents have planted the young trees in their yards and several farmers in the area have established them in rows along field boundaries. Members of Mpingo Clubs are helping with transplanting seedlings into the Moshi Mpingo Plot. Sebastian is teaching them the most advantageous locations for mpingo to survive in a wild habitat. This is dependent on soil and moisture, competition from other vegetation and safety from grazing animals.
South of Moshi and Arusha is one such location, an area of dry stream beds; here his young helpers are replanting many hundreds of seedlings.

It must be noted at this point, that all of the items, plus several other goals, from Sebastian’s wish list in the first (1996) fundraiser have been achieved. The ABCP now has a working nursery, a one-acre plot of saplings and has replanted thousands of mpingo back into their ecological niche in the African ecosystem. Sebastian is very proud of the project, committed to its continuation and has a long-range plan for its success.




ABCP Website maintained by James E. Harris, 2000.
Last revised 21 Apr 2008.