African Blackwood Conservation Project


So that the song
of the Tree of Music
will not go silent!


Latest Newsletter -- Fall 2018
Watch "The Tree of Music" Video

The African Blackwood Conservation Project was founded in 1996 for the purpose of re-establishing stands of the threatened species Dalbergia melanoxylon in Tanzania, a country which had plentiful supplies of the wood in the 1930's, but has since lost large numbers of its trees due to overuse, habitat clearing and illegal harvesting.
It is the national tree of Tanzania, where it plays a vital role in the ecology of the East African savannah, and is locally known by its Kiswahili name, mpingo.

Most people will not have knowingly seen blackwood, but almost everyone will have heard it, for it is the premier wood of choice for fine concert-quality woodwind instruments, such as clarinets, oboes, flutes and bagpipes because of its ability to produce the rich and mellow tonal quality for which those instruments are known. Because of this use, this tree of many names is also known as the Tree of Music. During the 1800's a Caribbean species called cocuswood was the material of choice for woodwind instruments, but it soon became commercially extinct and manufacturers switched to African blackwood.

Blackwood is also the finest material available today for producing ornamental turning, a specialized type of lathe work practiced by US and European artists. In its African homeland, it is used to make intricate and highly detailed carvings that express the lives and culture of the people who live there. The Kamba carvers of Kenya and the Makonde in Tanzania have carried on a carving tradition that has been passed from father to son for generations. Although the burgeoning tourist trade in eastern Africa has given them a global market for their artwork, it has resulted in an increased international demand for mpingo, with the artists often having to use alternate species in order to preserve their lifestyles and cultural traditions.

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A solitary mpingo tree on the farmlands below Mt. Kilimanjaro. Unassuming trees such as these are vital components of valued world art forms and musical instruments, such as the ornamental turned clock tower, Makonde carving and clarinet depicted below. Each photo links to further information on these mpingo-dependent creations.

See story: CITES CoP17 World Wildlife Conference hailed as a 'game changer'. All Dalbergia species are now protected.

Mpingo is found in countries across central and southern Africa, but only in eastern Africa does the tree grow in sufficient numbers and produce wood of the size and quality required to make it a suitable species for commercial interests. Its wood is so dense it can be machined like metal and carved like ivory. One tree, however, can take over 100 years to reach harvestable size, and for this reason it is not being replaced quickly enough to match demand, making its future therefore increasingly more perilous. Unfortunately, it has now become commercially extinct in Kenya and northern Tanzania, and the only target areas left for its commerce are southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique.

Although the tree is not yet on the endangered list, the ABCP is taking efforts now to help ensure that eventuality will not occur. In 1998 it was labeled "near threatened" on the IUCN Red list of Threatened Species, and in January 2017, after decisive action by the CITES World Wildlife Conference it was listed on Appendix II of CITES, along with all other Dalbergia species. (See details here.) To date there have been few conservation efforts directed specifically towards reforestation programs in its native range, and to our knowledge the ABCP is the only organization that has conducted long-term replanting and public education activities for the species. On this website information will be provided about the projects and outreach of the ABCP, as well as species information about mpingo and the difficulties facing its future sustainability within Africa. Now, perhaps more than any time in recorded history, the natural world is under extreme threat, but with intelligence, persistence and the technological tools of current times, groups around the world are working to reverse the impetus and to create and enforce measures to protect and sustain the irreplaceable species and forest resources that maintain the equilibrium of our planet.

The ABCP is a US IRS non-profit 501(c)(3) organization which has received funding from the generous support of the Good Gifts Catalogue, the Cottonwood Foundation, the Lindbergh Foundation and New England Biolabs Foundation as well as private donations from concerned individuals. Sebastian Chuwa, Tanzanian co-founder of the ABCP who died in 2014, was honored for his conservation and environmental education efforts on behalf of African blackwood and other African tree species with the Spirit of the Land Award at the 2002 Winter Olympics, the Rolex Awards for Enterprise in 2002, Condé Nast Traveler Magazine World Savers Environmental Award in 2006, The National Arbor Day Foundation's J. Sterling Morton Award and Yahoo! in 2007. All administrative costs of the project are covered by the US coordinators, who work on a volunteer basis. Consequently, 100% of funds donated are applied directly to the onsite work of the ABCP within Tanzania.

To learn more about the wood, its homeland, this project, the people who are trying to make it happen and how you can help, click on the links in the banner above or the site map below. You may also search this site for specific terms. The ABCP also replants other African trees, such as coffee, mahogany, and camphor, as well as its flagship species, African blackwood.

Beginning in 2018, the ABCP is pleased to acknowledge the support of Buffet Crampon in funding of ABCP nursery activities at the Moshi Mpingo Plot Nursery. Buffet Crampon has been making top-of-the-line wind instruments, including clarinets, oboes, bassoons, English horns and saxophones, since 1825. With African blackwood, or granadilla wood as known in the musical trade, being an integral material in their construction of the finest woodwind musical instruments, Buffet Crampon is dedicated to a sustainable future for this irreplaceable wood so that future generations may experience the joy of music made possible by "The Tree of Music". With innovations such as their Greenline products made of recycled blackwood, Buffet Crampon has demonstrated their commitment to an optimal and responsible use of precious natural resources such as blackwood and the ABCP looks forward to our continued partnership in the work of mpingo conservation.

paypaldonation.gif (857 bytes) You can also support the important work of the ABCP directly on the Donations page with payment by check or through PayPal. Alternative funding opportunities to support the ABCP are:
• by choosing to have a portion of your Amazon purchase price donated to the ABCP through the AmazonSmile program,
• or donating through the PayPal Giving Fund.
lion.jpg (3058 bytes) View a slide show of photos of a wildlife safari and ABCP activitities in Tanzania.

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Sebastian plants an mpingo seedling with the manager of a popular
curio shop named Zebra Handcrafts, on the road to Ngorongoro Crater,
as part of an outreach that distributes trees to schools, private farmlands,
institutions,and businesses in different areas of northern Tanzania.

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Mpingo seedlings in the two nursery shelters at the Moshi
Mpingo Plot will soon be ready for transplanting.

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"Mpingo Alley" – Rows of mpingo trees at the Moshi Mpingo Plot Tree Nursery
at Kiungi. This is the main ABCP nursery and these trees planted in
the late 1990's are now producing seeds for the nursery.


ABCP Website created and maintained by James E. Harris, © 2000.
All photos copyright © 2011 by Sebastian Chuwa unless otherwise noted.