African Blackwood Conservation Project

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The People Behind the Project

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With heavy heart, we must announce that on April 8, 2014, Sebastian Chuwa, our esteemed colleague and friend, and the inspiration for the founding of the African Blackwood Conservation Project, passed away from complications following a stroke. It was totally unexpected to his family, friends and colleagues. We will post notices here to keep you informed about developments and decisions about the future of the project.

A memorial article written by family friend and journalist, Deogratias Mushi, entitled "Sebastian Chuwa: Ecologist and protector of ebony wood" appeared in the Tanzanian newspaper, Daily News, April 12, 2014. The US ABCP team has updated Sebastian's CV & Bio and included an Obituary written by them at the bottom of this page.

Sebastian Chuwa

NOTE: What follows is the profile of Mr. Chuwa as it was presented on the website before his death. At the end of this archived material, at page bottom are his updated CV and Obituary as linked above.

Sebastian Chuwa is a man with a vision for his country, his people, and the future generations who will inherit their legacy. For 30 years he has been actively studying environmental problems in his east African homeland of Tanzania and the solutions he has found offer results that benefit not only the land, but all the populations that depend on it for life and sustenance. His methods are based on the two primary objectives of  community activism - organizing people to address their problems at a local level, and youth education - influencing the teaching of conservation in schools, beginning at the primary level.

Using these two interlocking philosophies, he has inspired large groups of community volunteers to come together to solve not only their environmental problems, but problems of poverty alleviation, women's empowerment, and youth employment within the area of Kilimanjaro Region in northern Tanzania. His efforts on behalf of African blackwood have created the first large-scale replanting effort for the species. Because of the establishment of multiple community nurseries and numerous cooperative projects geared towards reforestation over the past decade, in 2004 the ABCP and the youth groups associated with Sebastian's work celebrated the planting of one million trees. (See related story.) The ever-expanding nature of his work has given him and his community a reputation as leaders in the field of Tanzanian conservation. Here we will first describe his efforts for the conservation of African blackwood and then give an overview of his life history and some of the other important initiatives which he organizes.

History of the African Blackwood Conservation Project

In 1996 James Harris, an ornamental turner from Texas, USA, and Sebastian Chuwa founded the African Blackwood Conservation Project (ABCP), to establish educational and replanting efforts for the botanical species Dalbergia melanoxylon, known as mpingo in its home range of eastern Africa. The wood of mpingo is widely used by African carvers and by European instrument manufacturers for the production of clarinets, flutes, oboes, bagpipes and piccolos. Because of overharvesting and the lack of any efforts directed towards replanting the species, it is now considered near threatened in its primary harvesting area of eastern Africa.

Very little was publicly known about the plight of African blackwood until 1992, when a British produced documentary, The Tree of Music, (click here for information about obtaining a copy of this film) called the attention of the world to the fact that the African carvers and instrument makers alike are beginning to worry about the future of the tree. Large-growth trees are increasingly scarce and in many areas the species has reached commercial extinction. Sebastian is featured in the documentary, gazing across a fire ravaged plain, expressing his concern for mpingo's future. His first nursery efforts for the species are documented, as he is shown with 200 mpingo seedlings which he has germinated in small pots. About this beginning effort he said, "My 200 seedlings are obviously not enough to make much difference compared with what is being lost. But next year I hope to have 20,000 seedling to plant. It is vital for me to act now rather than wait until the future when things have reached a crisis."

In 1995 James Harris, who uses mpingo in his craft, saw The Tree of Music in the US and determined to do something for the conservation of the species. He made contact with Sebastian by mail and proposed a joint effort: he would launch a fundraising effort among woodworkers, musicians and conservationists of the western world, and send the money to Sebastian to start tree nurseries in Tanzania. The project was enthusiastically endorsed by Mr. Chuwa. Since that first contact, the ABCP has become a leading force for mpingo conservation in northern Tanzania, founding nurseries for the production of large numbers of mpingo seedlings and raising awareness about the importance of the species internationally. We are proud that in 2004 we reached Sebastian's goal, initially expressed in the BBC program, of planting over 20,000 mpingo trees during that one year!

Detailed information about the work of the ABCP can be found on our project page.

James Harris has a BS degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Texas. After college he worked for the Texas Highway department designing bridges. He is now a wood artist who practices a very technical type of lathework called Ornamental Turning. Some of the equipment that he uses for this craft he has designed and built himself. His artistic work consists of intricately ornamented perfume bottles, boxes and vessels. African blackwood is considered the most desirable wood for this artform. Because of its density and oiliness, it can be worked almost like metal, holding very fine detail without chipping or splitting. Further information can be found on his website.

Bette Stockbauer has a BA degree in African Anthropology/Sociology from the University of Houston and spent several years teaching children with special needs. She now works as a self-employed artist, making boxes from a variety of hardwoods, specializing in using species native to Texas. She and James live in Red Rock, Texas, on 15 acres of land, where they have built their own workshop and home. 

The time required for organizational responsibilities, publicity, fundraising, and accounting for the ABCP in the US is donated by James, the creator of this web site, and Bette, who specializes in grant writing and public outreach. Organization, management, and implementation of the project in the field in Tanzania is provided by Sebastian Chuwa, a trained botanist, along with his huge group of dedicated volunteers. In 2000, the ABCP acquired non-profit status as a US IRS 501(c)3 organization. Work of the US partners is voluntary and all money collected goes to support the work in Africa. Additionally the US team regularly funds special project needs from personal funds.

Mr. Chuwa's background and obvious commitment to his beloved mpingo qualifies him eminently to manage the African Blackwood Conservation Project in Tanzania. His motivation is to do something about the environment now, before a crisis state is reached. He feels that if we replant trees today and harvest mature trees as they are available, we can protect the local ecosystem, insure the vital role of mpingo be maintained, and still harvest the wood for local uses and international trade.

Below is additional information about Sebastian Chuwa, with his history and a description of some of the many imaginative programs and projects that he has instituted.

Early Education

Sebastian Chuwa was born on June 11, 1954 in Sungu Village, of Kibosho East Ward, of Kilimanjaro Region in Tanzania, located at about 4,900 feet in altitude on the southern slope of Mt. Kilimanjaro His early inspiration for botanical pursuits came from his late father, Michael Iwaku Chuwa, an accomplished herbalist, who would take the boy along on forest trips whenever he went to collect medicinal herbs, teaching him names of plants and their medicinal and domestic uses. This instilled in him a deep love and wide knowledge of the natural world and as a child he continually experimented with planting flowers, vegetables and trees in the family gardens and orchards. On completing his primary and secondary education, Sebastian determined to study conservation because his early exposure to nature had awakened in him a deep commitment to its preservation. In 1972 he was awarded a government scholarship to attend the College of African Wildlife Management Mweka in Moshi, Tanzania, one of the most prestigious wildlife institutes in Africa. He graduated in 1974 with a certificate in Wildlife Management.

Conservation at Ngorongoro

black_rhino.jpg (36562 bytes)After graduating from Mweka, Sebastian secured a position as a Research Field Assistant at Ngorongoro Crater Conservation District in 1974, working there until 1991, advancing to the position of Assistant Conservator. During this employment he researched and documented vascular plant species of the Ngorongoro Basin, preparing separate lists of edible, medicinal and poisonous plants in the basin. In this research he discovered four new species, one of which was named in his honor, including: Erlangea ngorongoroensis, Girardinia bullosa,Cyphostemma chuwa 2593, and Odontelytrum abssinicum. At park headquarters, he established a herbarium of 30,000 plants for the use of the conservation staff, scientists, and tourists. This collection has now been divided, and half is displayed in the National Herbarium in Arusha. He also collaborated in drawing up a new management plan for the conservation area.

During his botanical surveys, Sebastian gathered over 10,000 plants in duplicate to send to the University of Dar es Salaam and the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, England. Because of this work, he was awarded a scholarship by his government to study at Kew and received an International Diploma from that institution in 1990. His studies at Kew included plant identification, herbarium techniques, and the gardening of tropical wild plants.

In 1975 anthropologist Mary Leakey, who worked with Louis Leakey in early hominid research at nearby Olduvai Gorge, requested the Conservator of Ngorongoro to send her a botanist to identify plants of the Gorge. Sebastian was chosen and spent extensive time at Olduvai, continuing until he had compiled an annotated checklist of the area’s vascular plants for Leakey.

He also helped to institute a protection program for Ngorongoro’s endangered black rhinoceros, a target of poachers who sell the horns. Rhinos are fairly easily identified by the distinct characteristics of their individual horns so Sebastian kept a photographic file of rhino horns. In the 1980’s he was requested by authorities in Dar-es-Salaam to bring his file to help identify individual horns in a case of 264 that had been confiscated before being smuggled illegally out of the country. He was able to identify 8 rhinos that had been poached from the Ngorongoro protected area. After this Sebastian insisted on the necessity of monitoring each individual rhino and set up a watch program, with a ranger assigned to each rhino in the Crater to personally supervise. When the rhinoceros-monitoring program was published in the Ngorongoro Bulletin, it drew the attention of park personnel in other parts of Africa interested in ecological monitoring. To date this project is funded by many international organizations.

In the 1970’s Sebastian also began organizing communities of Masai pastoralists who lived around Ngorongoro (and depended on the park for water and forage for their cattle) in environmental conservation. At that time, the national policy towards conservation strongly emphasized policing national parks rather than incorporating local communities into initiatives for environmental remediation. But even in that political climate, he began to organize at a community level. Through his botanical work and consultations with village leaders, he formed strong alliances and established a good relationship with the local communities. He gave them tree seedlings so that they would not steal trees from the crater and helped them establish their own tree nursery (still managed by the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority). Many people in that area now have their own trees for fuelwood and timber, thereby reducing tree-cutting in the conservation area. Sebastian not only confined himself to Masai areas, but also worked at Mbulumbulu, an area southeast of Ngorongoro in Karatu District/Arusha Region, where he started a tree planting campaign. He started this initiative because of the appalling decimation of trees in the Ngorongoro Forest Reserve.

Another step in the attempt to forge a more productive relationship between local communities and the park authority, was the founding in 1981 of the first youth club in Tanzania for environmental education, set up in a Masai school (Ngorongoro Crater Primary School) on the boundary of the park. This club focused on conservation education and practical actions of establishing tree nurseries and replanting native species back into the environment. British botanists David Bygot and Jeannette Hanbey, who were doing research in Ngorongoro and co-authored a book (Sebastian contributed his knowledge of local wildlife) in the 1980’s, were so impressed by his educational work that they used his model when working to establish a national Tanzanian youth education group called Malihai Clubs of Tanzania.

To broaden his knowledge of medicinal remedies, he established alliances with tribal healers around Ngorongoro to study their knowledge of local plants used for human and animal maladies. These remedies, along with ones he learned from his father, have been summarized and published in an Appendix D of the book Environmental Conservation — Kibosho East. In 1992 he traveled to Uppsala University in Sweden for a workshop called "Participatory Rural Appraisal Program," learning about organizing and implementing projects at the community level. A GIS (Geographical Information Systems) course at the Ardhi Institute in Dar es Salaam gave him the training needed to prepare Vegetation Species Composition Maps of the Ngorongoro Crater area, Tarangire National Park and Udzungwa National Park. He has also participated in various forest surveys in different parts of Tanzania for inclusion in an Atlas of Vegetation of Tanzania. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo he participated with other scientists in biodiversity reconnaissance surveys. He was a consultant for the National Museum of Kenya identifying plants for their herbarium. Currently he is working on compiling a checklist of the plants of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Wildlife Conservation Society

In 1991 Sebastian was transferred from Ngorongoro to work as a botanical officer at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Dar es Salaam. There he was in charge of coastal forest projects and established several youth conservation clubs that are still active. He also continued his tree nursery work and raised and distributed more than 78,000 seedlings like mningo, mpingo, red mahogany and pod mahogany. Because of his keen interest in replanting programs for African blackwood (mpingo) he was interviewed and used as consultant in 1992 by the BBC for the Nature series documentary “The Tree of Music.”  In 1992, because of the family's health problems in the coastal environment, Sebastian left his employment at WCS and returned to his ancestral home on Mt. Kilimanjaro, where he now lives with his wife, Elizabeth, who is a primary school teacher, and their four children. He makes his living as a seasonal botanical and wildlife safari guide and devotes his free time to organizing tree planting and educational activities on Kilimanjaro and in the townships of Moshi and Arusha.

Tree Planting and Education in Kilimanjaro Region - One Million+ Trees

kili.jpg (30744 bytes)When Sebastian returned to Kilimanjaro in 1992, he was appalled and saddened by the widespread environmental degradation in his homeland. His years away had seen the collapse of its coffee industry (established by European settlers in the late 1800's), seasonal droughts leading to widespread poverty and rampant deforestation, as people struggled to make whatever living they could from the natural resources around them. Follow this link for additional information about Mt. Kilimanjaro, its vital role in the ecology of northern Tanzania and its human history of land use, intensive farming, coffee production and ABCP tree planting and educational efforts on the mountain.

He often remembers that when he was a young boy, there were so many trees everywhere that you could not often see the peak of Kilimanjaro. But because of years of land degradation and reduction of forest cover, the massif can now be seen from all areas of the mountain. Rivers that once flowed all year have become seasonal and some seasonal watercourses have stopped flowing altogether.

Sebastian's first step in establishing projects for remediation was to establish a tree nursery in his own backyard, producing species that would offer economic benefit for the people and also reforest the mountain. Realizing that he could obtain little assistance from the impoverished government of Tanzania, he determined to organize and educate communities on the mountain to find ways of self-action to begin to reverse the decades of environmental decline and improve standards of living. He was also determined to focus on teaching the very young the advantages of rightful care of their environmental inheritance, so that they could learn best methods to replenish resources used and to protect the delicate ecosystems surrounding their homes and farms. His methodology became, therefore, an integrated three-fold approach of tree planting, education, and self-help initiatives, resulting in environmental remediation and poverty alleviation.

This outreach has struck a responsive chord in communities who are realizing their future livelihoods depend on the viability, health and diversity of the surrounding ecosystem. He has established an impressive voluntary work force, that is devoted to solving the area's environmental problems and assuring a sustainable future for Kilimanjaro Region. Through efforts to combat pollution, reforest the mountain and educate their fellow citizens about wise conservation practices, they are remedying damage that has been caused by several decades of environmental abuse.

Youth Environmental Network

To inspire young people with proper ideas of environmental care and nurturance he enlisted the aid of teachers of primary and secondary schools in the area. He organized a Teacher’s Conference so they could communicate with one another and design programs to implement grassroots projects and incorporate environmental studies into school curricula. Since many of the teachers had never visited the national parks of Tanzania (because of the expense of travel and entry permits), and consequently had never actually seen much of the magnificent animal and plant life of eastern Africa, instructional safaris were arranged so that they could tour Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and Serengeti National Park. The trips gave them a knowledge and excitement about conservation that they were subsequently able to impart to their students. The teachers, in turn, began to arrange similar expeditions to take student groups to also visit the conservation areas, where the young people experienced the excitement of learning to identify wildlife firsthand and became aware of the problems of endangered species. With knowledge garnered from these expeditions, students are imparting information and enthusiasm about protecting the environment to their family groups and local communities.

seba-with children.jpg (17857 bytes)Sebastian further extended his youth outreach by affiliating himself with two national youth organizations, Malihai Clubs of Tanzania, based in Arusha, and Roots and Shoots, founded by Jane Goodall, whom he has known for many years. These organizations provide further opportunities to study conservation and to personally assist in environmental remediation projects. Their approach is holistic, training the young to understand all the living communities in the African ecosystem and what is needed for them to successfully coexist. Club members learn a variety of skills, including environmental and personal hygiene, knowledge about natural ecosystems and group cooperation. They are instructed in beautification and cleanliness of the area around their homes and schools and learn personal hygiene and household sanitation to offset public health problems like cholera and other epidemics. Through sports activities such as volleyball and basketball they learn physical coordination and cooperation . One of their most important activities is establishing tree nurseries on school grounds. Each club is directly responsible for planting seeds and raising trees which are then transplanted to areas around schools and homes, or into the surrounding ecosystem. Every year Malihai and Roots and Shoots Clubs replant thousands of trees to reforest degraded areas in Kilimanjaro and Arusha Regions that have been denuded by forest fire or tree cutting. Their trees protect the soil and rivers, and supply people with species to improve income levels and supply domestic needs.

These educational networks of students and teachers also conduct public campaigns focused on biodiversity conservation. People are encouraged to protect water sources, stop the indiscriminate use of pesticides, terrace crops on steep slopes to eliminate soil erosion, introduce crop mulching and grass planting to preserve moisture, reduce water wastage by using better irrigation practices, introduce zero-grazing, reduce the use of fire in agriculture and honey harvesting, and stop excessive tree cutting by introducing tree planting campaigns for ecosystem revitalization. To date Sebastian has established a network of 116 youth clubs, with membership of up to 300 students each. Their formation has enhanced good co-operation among the schools, villagers, and various institutions in Kilimanjaro Region. During the 1990's the national Malihai network expanded tremendously. About 1,000 clubs have registered with the national office and 200,000 Tanzanian students are introduced to environmental education every year. Roots and Shoots is an international network, with branches in numerous countries.

Because of their outstanding conservation efforts, in 1996 the government of Tanzania invited the Kibosho East Malihai groups to host the first Environmental Day ceremonies for the whole Kilimanjaro Region, held in conjunction with International Environmental Day. Kibosho East schools have hosted these celebrations ever since. Representatives from participating schools arrange the ceremonies and draw up a set of conservation resolutions for the area. One of their first initiatives in association with this event was to plant 15,000 seedlings along Mweka Route, the main trail for backpackers going up Kilimanjaro, which is badly deforested because of overuse. The celebration brings together political dignitaries, educators, concerned citizens and students of all ages for the purpose of educating the public about the importance of protecting their natural resources. Community leaders address the gathering and students perform plays with an environmental message. Those who attend are asked to help in implementing responsible conservation practices such as planting trees and protecting water sources.

sixtus&choir.jpg (65132 bytes)Throughout Africa, music functions as an important educational and informational tool. Every year Sixtus Koromba, a gifted musician from Arusha, presents an inspiring venue of environmental music for the celebrations, performed through song and dance by student and adult choirs. Sixtus has written numerous original songs urging people to come together to work for the environment and protect endangered species. The music has now been recorded at a studio in Arusha and a video tape subsequently made of the choirs performing the songs in beautiful natural settings on Mt. Kilimanjaro. These videos are now used in many settings to introduce conservation talks and seminars for community and school groups. 

The Kibosho East community documented these activities by publishing a book, Environmental Conservation — Kibosho East, written and edited by Sebastian and teachers and members of the Malihai network. It recounts and documents the conservation efforts of the Kibosho Malihai Clubs, provides a handbook for teaching environmental awareness and includes an extensive list of plant and animal species found in the region, compiled by Sebastian. It also includes a list of medicinal plants, with the human or animal diseases they cure and their means of preparation. This information, which has traditionally been secret, is very helpful in giving people the means to treat themselves.

Rafiki/Friends Foundation

Sebastian was assisted in these early efforts by the California-based Rafiki/Friends Foundation, a group organized by people who had met Sebastian as a safari guide and wanted to help with his environmental work. Visits to villages around his region inspired them to initiate fund raising activities for a twofold purpose: to support education in Tanzania and to promote awareness of the need to preserve Africa's wildlife. They organized fundraising efforts in the US and channeled it to support educational efforts in the Moshi and Arusha areas of northern Tanzania. Their efforts refurbished and built schools, and provided desks and school lunches in several different communities in northern Tanzania. They supplied Malihai Groups with used computers, pens, pencils, paper, crayons, sports gear and environmental books, as well as herbarium equipment and provided funds to publish Environmental Conservation — Kibosho East.

One Million + Trees

In 2004 the youth network groups and the ABCP celebrated a milestone achievement--the planting of one million trees since the beginning of Sebastian's community outreach in 1992. By 2007 this number had reached 1,250,000 trees and Sebastian thinks it will not be too many years before it reaches the 2,000,000 mark. (See related story.)

Adult Environmental Groups

Sebastian also helps in the conservation activities of adult groups, each involved in planting trees and sponsoring initiatives for environmental protection. Some of these groups are: the Green Garden Women's Group, The Kibosho East Environmental Group, the Mpingo Women's Group at Kikavu chini, the Fonga Women's Group, the Environmental Greenishing Group and the Muungano Makonde Carvers. Further information about the activities of these groups can be found here.

Coffee Farmers of Kilimanjaro

Coffee is Tanzania’s largest export crop, contributing about US $115 million to export earnings. Almost 95 percent of the crop is grown by smallholders and on Mt. Kilimanjaro, approximately 400,000 families are involved in producing its widely-known, mild-flavored Arabica coffee. However, recently farmers in this sector have suffered excessively. Old and disease-prone trees have lead to widespread crop failures and plummeting prices on the world market have devastated income earnings. Some farmers are uprooting their coffee trees and planting other agricultural crops which they deem more profitable.

In 1998 the Government of Tanzania launched a Coffee Revival Program in an effort to replace old and disease-prone trees (suffering from Coffee Leaf Blight and Coffee Berry Disease) with new resistant varieties developed at its Tanzania Coffee Research Institute (TaCRI) at Lyamungo, located on Mt. Kilimanjaro. The new varieties bloom early so that during the long rains the fruit is mature enough to resist both disease and the cold weather, which kills young berries. During the past 4 years, Sebastian has been working with Lyamungo in producing and distributing the new trees, which are planted from cuttings and start bearing within 2 years (compared to 5 years if planted from seed). Mother trees for cuttings have been planted in the nursery of the ABCP project partner Kibosho East Environmental Group. Cuttings from these trees are planted in pots until mature enough to be replanted in farmers fields. Sebastian has already distributed over 20,000 trees and personnel from Lyamungo often bring visitors and groups to tour the KEEG plot, which is becoming a model project for coffee revitalization in Kibosho East. Local initiatives like this are of great importance for the Tanzanian government in achieving its goal of energizing the coffee sector.

Sebastian estimates that only one percent of Kilimanjaro coffee farmers are currently growing resistant varieties, and he is doing educational outreach, working with small local groups teaching them the basics of coffee cultivation and care so that they can educate other people in their area in coffee horticultural methods and begin replacing their disease-prone trees with new varieties, organically grown. He has also invented an organic pesticide/fertilizer combination for coffee trees. It is made from the leaves of Tephrosia and marigold, combined with clay soil and manure tea and fermented for 10 days. This combination is a powerful pesticide not only for coffee pests and leaf rust, but also for other crops.

Much of Kilimanjaro coffee is shade-grown (shade-grown coffee is ecologically friendly, protecting biodiversity and animal and insect populations), therefore, Sebastian also advises farmers in the planting of the organic hardwood seedlings that will provide shade and windbreak for the coffee. These hardwood species will, in addition, supply the smallholder with important domestic products such as fuelwood, timber, and fruits and nuts, thereby reducing vulnerability to fluctuating market prices and crop failure. He is advising the planting of banana trees along with the hardwood species, in the ratio of 15 hardwood trees and 20 banana plants for every 50 coffee trees. Some of the hardwood species are: Macaranga kilimandsharica, Podocarpus latifolius or Yellow wood, Grevillea robusta or Silk oak tree, Albizia kilimandscharica, and Rauvolffia cafra or Wild mango tree.

    Through this project we hope to reach out to farmers from the many communities on Mt. Kilimanjaro and neighboring Mt. Meru (also a coffee-producing area), to educate them in the multi-faceted production and care of organic coffee so that they will then be able to filter the information back for use in their localized areas. At the same time we will help with establishing markets for them in the Fair Trade and specialty organic sector, in order to increase prices received for their coffee.


seba70.jpg (19725 bytes)Sebastian is also spreading the word about conservation through addresses delivered at conferences. In 2000 he attended a conference on "Wildlife Management in the New Millennium" at the Mweka College of Wildlife Management located on the slope of Mt. Kilimanjaro. He spoke on mpingo conservation and had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Jane Goodall, the keynote speaker, to discuss their respective youth programs. They are shown in conversation after Dr. Goodall's talk in the photo at left. Since this meeting Sebastian has been active in helping to establish Goodall's Roots and Shoots clubs in the Moshi and Arusha areas.

At a regional conference of Malihai sponsors, he shared his ideas about youth education and was able to interest several other participants in mpingo replanting efforts. He also attended an "Environmental Action Learning" seminar sponsored by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), again presenting his ideas. As a result of this seminar he is working with 5 colleagues to draw up a plan for environmental education programs in the schools of Tanzania.

Fauna and Flora International (FFI) is taking a leading role in investigating certification and sustainable harvesting practices for mpingo. In October of 2001 FFI held a conference in Dar es Salaam, bringing together government representatives, foresters, artisans, and conservationists to discuss a way forward for the species and Sebastian was given an opportunity to present his ideas about mpingo conservation and the work of the ABCP.

In May of 2002 he attended the High Summit Conference for Africa in Nairobi and gave a talk on conservation on Mt. Kilimanjaro. This conference was held as part of the UN designated 2002 International Year of Mountains celebration.

Offices and Awards

June, 2007: Sebastian receives the J. Sterling Morton Award, the highest yearly award of The National Arbor Day Foundation, presented during ceremonies in Nebraska City, Nebraska. Bette and James traveled to Nebraska City for the awards ceremony and spent several days with him consulting about the future direction of the project.

November, 2006: Sebastian is chosen as one of 3 international environmentalists for a "World Savers" Award, presented by Conde Nast Traveler magazine to "an unsung few who are fighting to safeguard some of the globe's most spectacular destinations, which for these heroes also happen to be home." The award was given to honor his work for the conservation of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  

November, 2002: Sebastian is the recipient of an Associate Laureate Award from the Rolex Awards for Enterprise committee. In ceremonies held in London, England, he was presented with a gold Rolex watch and a cash award. This funding has served to expand the work of the ABCP, enabling it to greatly enlarge the ABCP mpingo nursery and affording Sebastian the means to purchase an all-season 4wd vehicle. 

February, 2002: During Olympic ceremonies at Salt Lake City, Sebastian receives The Spirit of the Land award, presented to 10 US and 5 international conservationists who had made outstanding contributions in the field of environmental education. This was his first trip to the US and, in addition to traveling to the Olympics, he visited with friends and co-workers in California, North Carolina and Texas. He spent several days visiting with James Harris and Bette Stockbauer at their home near Red Rock, Texas.

October, 2000: Sebastian is elected to political office as Councilor of his ward of Kibosho East. This position gives him a voice in local and central government and facilitates his efforts to coordinate and encourage various environmental initiatives and tree planting campaigns.

1999: Sebastian is appointed Chairman of the Kilimanjaro Environmental Conservation Management Trust Fund by the Regional Government Authority of Kilimanjaro Region, Tanzania. This office automatically makes him a member of the Regional Environmental Conservation Committee. His valuable contributions to environmental conservation will be amplified through this position.


Such a 'wise use'  philosophy, as the work of Sebastian Chuwa and his community on Mt. Kilimanjaro demonstrate, is obviously the key element in any approach to conservation of threatened species in today's world. The impact of humanity upon nature is significant and proper planning must be initiated if there is to be any hope for a balanced world ecosystem in this century. Sebastian will do all the work in the field for this project and all he asks from the larger world community is minimal support to build a more focused and efficient conservation effort. His altruism is commendable and he deserves the support of everyone who directly or indirectly benefits from the special tree he is dedicated to preserve. Ornamental turners, knife manufacturers, woodwind instrument makers and collectors of Makonde sculpture are direct beneficiaries of the unique wood called mpingo. But in a broader sense, the whole world benefits from this tree. Two of the highest achievements of human creativity and culture - music and art - are universal, and mpingo plays an irreplaceable, though little-recognized role, in their expression.


NOTE: The following material has been added after Sebastian's death.

A recently updated Curriculum Vitae and Biography
for Sebastian is available as a 9-page PDF file from this link.



            Sebastian Chuwa, Tanzanian botanist and winner of several international awards for his accomplishments in conservation in his country, passed away on April 8, 2014 in Kilimanjaro Region from complications following a stroke. Mr. Chuwa was particularly noted for his efforts to replant the African blackwood tree, the national tree of Tanzania. Known locally as mpingo, it is used by east African carvers and in the manufacture of woodwind instruments such as clarinets, flutes, bagpipes, piccolos and oboes. The species is listed as near-threatened on the IUCN Red List and is commercially extinct in many areas of eastern Africa, where harvesting is most intense. Through Mr. Chuwa's efforts one million mpingo have been planted in well protected areas where they are expected to become a valuable resource for the future.

            Beginning in 2004 he also established nurseries in the Mt. Kilimanjaro area for the cultivation of new-variety, disease-resistant coffee seedlings. This was in cooperation with a national initiative to revive Tanzania's coffee industry by replacing aged and disease-prone trees which were suffering from coffee berry disease. Under his supervision 2 million coffee trees were supplied to individual farmers and plantation owners in northern Tanzania.

            Originally taught by his father, who was an herbalist, he became a well-known authority on native medicinal plants. After finishing secondary school he attended Mweka College of Wildlife Management, in 1974 receiving a certificate in Wildlife Management. From 1974-1991 Mr. Chuwa held the position of Conservator at Ngorongoro Crater Conservation District. In this capacity he established a widely-emulated program for protection of the endangered black rhinoceros. He also set up a herbarium of 30,000 plant species for the use of park personnel and visitors and cooperated with Kew Gardens in London, England by supplying that institution with native African plants. In the process he discovered four new species, two of which were named in his honor. Additionally he worked with Mary Leakey at Olduvai Gorge, mapping the plant life of that area.

            In 1992 he returned to his ancestral home in the Moshi/Kilimanjaro area and found employment as a professional safari guide. Through his job, he met people from around the world and impressed many with his extensive knowledge of the wildlife and plant life of northern Tanzania.  Volunteering countless hours of his personal time, he began a number of grassroots conservation and education based activities. Working through Malihai Clubs of Tanzania and Roots and Shoots, he established over 100 youth conservation groups and influenced teachers and administrators to include a conservation curriculum in primary and secondary schools of the area. The children were also taught horticulture through the establishment of school nurseries which supplied tree species for the domestic needs of farmers and householders. Chuwa assisted in the formation of a number of women's groups, who founded tree nurseries and economic enterprises for community advancement. On the international level he was able to influence the creation of the US-based Rafiki Friends Foundation and the African Blackwood Conservation Project, both of which were specifically chartered to channel international funding towards his conservation and educational efforts.

            In 2002, Chuwa was presented with the Spirit of the Land award during that year's Winter Olympics by the (US) Salt Lake City Olympic Committee for international accomplishment in environmental education. Also in 2002 he received an Associate Laureate Award from the Rolex Awards for Enterprise Committee for his outstanding work in conservation. In 2006 he received the Conde Nast Traveler magazine World Savers award and in 2007 was honored by the US National Arbor Day Foundation, which presented him with their highest honor, the J. Sterling Morton Award. In 2011 he received a Malihai Club award for 30 years of service with that organization.

            Sebastian Chuwa was a man who was at home on the world stage, yet totally committed to his beloved country, Tanzania. Fluent in multiple languages, he studied medicinal and botanical knowledge from numerous African traditions. He was likewise a font of information about the exotic animal life of the continent. Safari travelers fortunate enough to have him as a guide would be entertained for hours not only by this wide knowledge of his homeland but equally by his animated and humorous story telling. He was equally adept in describing the life ways of elephants in Ngorongoro as when directing visiting international naturalists to butterfly havens in south central Tanzania. He has been described as having a "mega-smile" and always had a friendly greeting for everyone he met.

            His infectious enthusiasm instilled in others a commitment to nature that will doubtless have effects far into the future. His particular genius was in establishing a paradigm that equally provided for human economic empowerment and environmental preservation. He established mechanisms that helped the coffee farmers of Kilimanjaro establish organic shade-grown agricultural systems, thereby reducing costs and preserving the natural ecology. He showed how mpingo could be integrated into agriculture as a nitrogen provider and utilized in urban settings for shade and windbreak. All of his work had one eye toward human need and the other toward environmental protection. Through this deeply intuitive commitment – balancing the human world and the natural world – he has left a wisdom and legacy for us all, not only for the people of his Tanzania, but for all people of the world who similarly cherish this precious and fragile planet on which we dwell.

            Sebastian is survived by his mother, his wife, Elizabeth, a primary school teacher in Kibosho East, Kilimanjaro, and 4 children, Margareth, Michael, Flora and Cyril.


ABCP Website maintained by James E. Harris, 2000.
Last revised 20 April 2014.