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Life History of Sebastian Chuwa

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The African Blackwood Conservation Project was founded by Tanzanian botanist, Sebastian Chuwa and US woodturner, James Harris, in 1996. Along with a wide group of volunteers, for almost 20 years they worked together towards ensuring a future for African blackwood in its native land of Tanzania, and also sponsored many initiatives for the environmental sustainability of the Mt. Kilimanjaro watershed. Because of Sebastian's considerable networking skills and wide influence in the conservation community, the groups influenced by his work were able to accomplish the planting of almost 3 million trees during his lifetime, and a generation of school chidren were exposed to the principles of environmental conservation.

On April 8, 2014, Sebastian passed away from complications following a stroke. It was totally unexpected for his family, friends and colleagues. His legacy will be carried on, however, and the ABCP will continue its work in raising awareness about the special importance of mpingo and the difficulties facing its future. Sebastian's role as Tanzanian Director has been assumed by his wife, Elizabeth Chuwa, and her brother, Dismas Macha. Elizabeth and Sebastian's sons, Michael and Cyril, will also be involved in carrying on the work.

This page contains a history of Sebastian's life and conservation work in Tanzania. 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. After Sebastian's death, the US ABCP team updated Sebastian's CV & Bio and included an Obituary written by them at the bottom of this page.

Sebastian Chuwa

Sebastian Chuwa was a man with a vision for his country, his people, and the future generations who will inherit their legacy. Through his many years of actively studying environmental problems in his east African homeland of Tanzania, he was often able to find broad-based solutions that could benefit not only the land, but all the populations that depend on it for life and sustenance. His methods were based on the two primary objectives of  1) community activism - organizing people to address their problems at a local level, and 2) youth education - influencing the teaching of conservation in schools, beginning at the primary level.

Using these two interlocking paradigms, he 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 in the Kilimanjaro Region of northern Tanzania. His efforts on behalf of African blackwood created the first, and to date only, long-term replanting effort for the species. Because of the establishment of multiple community nurseries and numerous cooperative projects geared towards reforestation, the youth and adults inspired by his work accomplished the planting of close to three million trees of a variety of species, including mpingo. The ABCP newsletters document the planting of one million trees in 2004 (2004 NL) and two million trees in 2012 (2012 NL) by the ABCP and its associated community and school replanting groups. The ever-expanding nature of Sebastian's work gave him and his community a reputation as leaders in the field of Tanzanian conservation.

Early Education

Sebastian Chuwa was born on June 11, 1954 in Sungu Village, Kibosho East Ward, in the Kilimanjaro Region of 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. As an adult Sebastian compiled this information (List of Traditional Medicines in Kibosho East Handbook), which had traditionally been secret, and published it for the utilization of the members of his community in a handbook. This inspiration from his father 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 this early exposure to nature had awakened in him a deep commitment to its future 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.

Botanical 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, and worked 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 an herbarium of 30,000 plants for the use of 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 her husband Louis Leakey in early hominid research at nearby Oldupai (renamed from the original Olduvai) Gorge, requested that the management staff of Ngorongoro "loan" to her a botanist to identify the plants of the area. Sebastian was chosen and spent extensive time at Oldupai in compiling an annotated checklist of the area’s vascular plants for her.

He also helped to institute a protection program for Ngorongoro’s endangered black rhinoceros, a target for poachers who sell the extremely valuable 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 the source of rhino horns in a shipping case of 264 that had been confiscated before being smuggled illegally out of the country. Using his photographs 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. This type of protection project was funded by many international organizations.

In the 1970’s Sebastian also began organizing communities of Maasai pastoralists who lived around Ngorongoro (and depended on the park for water and forage for their cattle) in environmental conservation, working at a community level to engage them in cooperative endeavors. Through 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 cut trees in the crater and helped them establish their own tree nursery. 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 Maasai areas, but also worked at Mbulumbulu, an area southeast of Ngorongoro in the Karatu District of Arusha Region, where he started a tree planting campaign. He started this initiative because of the 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, 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. Bygot and Hanbey co-authored many books, one of them named Ngorongoro Conservation Area: The Complete Guidebook. Sebastian contributed his knowledge of local wildlife for inclusion in the book, and during his later work in Kilimanjaro Region he worked in association with the national Malihai network that had been founded by Bygot and Hanbey.

To broaden his knowledge of medicinal remedies, he established alliances with tribal healers around Ngorongoro to study their use of local plants in treating human and animal maladies. These remedies, along with ones he learned from his father, were also among those published in Appendix D of Environmental Conservation — Kibosho East. The other checklists published in the book name the species of trees, birds and animals of Kibosho East. In 1992 he traveled to Uppsala University in Sweden for a workshop called "Participatory Rural Appraisal Program," where he learned 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 also participated in various forest surveys in different parts of Tanzania to contribute information 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 and was also a consultant for the National Museum of Kenya in identifying plants for their herbarium.

Wildlife Conservation Society

In 1991 Sebastian was transferred from Ngorongoro to work as a botanical officer at the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST) 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 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 lived with his wife, Elizabeth, who is a primary school teacher, and raised their four children, Margreth, Michael, Flora and Cyril. Between 1992 and 2010 he was employed by Wildlife Explorer/Tanzania as a seasonal botanical and wildlife safari guide and devoted his free time to organizing tree planting and educational activities in the Mt. Kilimanjaro Region. In 2010 he retired and devoted the rest of his life to conservation.

Tree Planting and Education in Kilimanjaro Region

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, which had been established by European settlers in the late 1800's, and was the major income earner in the area. In the 1960's many aging coffee trees in the country fell susceptible to Coffee Berry Disease, a malady which destroys the crop, The combination of the worldwide economic downturn in the 1970's, the loss of wage income from coffee and recurrent seasonal droughts led to widespread poverty. One way to make income was to harvest tree resources, and rampant deforestation resulted, 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.

Sebastian often remembers that when he was a young boy, there were so many trees everywhere that you could often not even see the peak of Kilimanjaro through the dense tree canopy from many vantage points. 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 instituting projects for remediation was to establish a nursery in his own backyard, where he grew tree seedlings of 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 also pinpointed education as a primary objective, focusing many of his programs on teaching the young the advantages of rightful care of their environmental inheritance. He concentrated on doable solutions for replenishing resources and protecting delicate ecosystems. His methodology became, therefore, an integrated three-fold approach of tree planting, education, and self-help initiatives, resulting in the intertwined objectives of environmental remediation and poverty alleviation.

This outreach struck a responsive chord in communities who know that their future livelihoods depend on the viability, health and diversity of nature itself. He established an impressive voluntary work force, 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 implemented programs that helped to remedy 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, Sebastian and Elizabeth enlisted the aid of primary and secondary teachers in Kibosho East, the area of Kilimanjaro where they lived. They organized a conference which enabled the teachers to communicate with one another and devise a curriculum to incorporate environmental studies into school studies. 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 then able to impart to their students. The teachers in turn arranged similar safaris for student groups, during which 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 were able to communicate information and enthusiasm about protecting the environment to their family groups and local communities.

seba-with children.jpg (17857 bytes)Sebastian and Elizabeth further extended their outreach through affiliation with two national youth organizations, Malihai Clubs of Tanzania, and Roots and Shoots, founded by Jane Goodall, whom they had known for many years. These organizations provided further opportunities to study conservation and to personally assist in environmental remediation projects. Their approach was 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 practice 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 all over Tanzania replant many thousands of trees to reforest degraded areas that have been denuded by forest fire or tree cutting. The 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 outreach campaigns focused on emphasizing 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. Elizabeth and Sebastian helped in the founding of over 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 with about 1,000 clubs registered with the national office and 200,000 Tanzanian students 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 in the whole Kilimanjaro Region, held in conjunction with International Environmental Day every year on June 5. 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 heritage. Community leaders address the gathering and students create plays and skits with an environmental message. Those who attend are asked to help by taking direct action such as planting trees and protecting water sources.

sixtus&choir.jpg (65132 bytes)Throughout Africa, music functions as an important educational and informational tool. Sixtus Koromba is a gifted musician from Arusha who has written numerous original songs urging people to come together to work for the environment and protect endangered species. Two choirs from Kibosho East, one adult and another composed of school children, perform for many public venues, including Environmental Day activities. Their music has 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 in the area. 

The Kibosho East community documented these activities by publishing the above-mentioned book, Environmental Conservation — Kibosho East, written and edited by Elizabeth, 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.

Rafiki/Friends Foundation

Sebastian was assisted in these early efforts by the California-based Rafiki/Friends Foundation, a group organized by US travelers who had met Sebastian as a safari guide and wanted to help with his environmental work. Visits to the awe-inspiring national parks of Tanzania inspired them to initiate fund raising activities to support education in Tanzania and to promote awareness of the need to preserve Africa's wildlife. The Rafiki's organized fundraising efforts in the US for the advancement of youth education 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. They supplied Malihai Groups with used computers, pens, pencils, paper, crayons, sports gear, environmental books and herbarium equipment and provided the funding to publish Environmental Conservation — Kibosho East.

History of the African Blackwood Conservation Project

When James Harris and Sebastian Chuwa founded the African Blackwood Conservation Project in 1996, the objective was to inaugurate 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, (watch video on You Tube) called the attention of the world to the fact that African carvers and instrument makers alike were beginning to worry about the future of the tree. Large-growth trees had become increasingly scarce and in many areas the species was close to or past the point of 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 seedlings 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 used African blackwood in his woodturning, 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 campaign among woodworkers, musicians and conservationists of the western world, and send the money to Sebastian to start propagation and distribution of the species. The project was enthusiastically endorsed by Sebastian. Since that first contact, the ABCP has become a leading force for mpingo conservation in northern Tanzania, producing 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!

Sebastian loved all trees and considered each as having a special niche, but his special love for mpingo was obvious to all who knew him. Sadly, he had personally witnessed in his own lifetime the commercial extinction of this irreplaceable tree in his ancestral area of northern Tanzania. Because of this he was keenly aware of the paramount importance of replanting and protecting precious species. It is only through replanting trees today and harvesting them as they mature, that we can protect the future of our commercial wood species and local ecosystems at the same time. Above all, Sebastian knew that the time to act is always the present; the world cannot wait until a species has so declined that its genetic diversity has been compromised. To that end he began with a modest effort and as interest grew he began to attract an ever-widening circle of people willing to help to ensure mpingo's future as a species.

Such a 'wise use'  philosophy, as the work of Sebastian and his community on Mt. Kilimanjaro have demonstrated, 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. 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. It will take commitment, dedication and persistence, but given the will, an intelligent approach can be mounted to insure that mpingo has the protected future that it so richly deserves.

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

Adult Environmental Groups

Sebastian and Elizabeth were also active in establishing adult conservation 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 $186 million (2014) to export earnings. Almost 90 percent of the crop is grown by smallholders, and about 75,000 coffee farmers live on Mt. Kilimanjaro. The Arabica coffee they produce is widely known for its mild flavor. However, with the downturn in this sector (described above), researchers have been experimenting with producing more resilient and productive trees. In 1998 the Government of Tanzania launched a Coffee Revival Program in an effort to replace old and disease-prone trees with new resistant varieties developed at its Tanzania Coffee Research Institute (TaCRI) at Lyamungo, located on Mt. Kilimanjaro.

TaCRI has launched a nation-wide effort to boost coffee production in the regions of the country where it grows well. With experimentation they have developed 23 new hybrid varieties that combine good yield and quality with resistance to Coffee Leaf Rust, Coffee Berry Disease and Coffee Wilt Disease, the three maladies that were destroying crops. Some of 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. By 2016 it had produced over 51 million hybrid seedlings, enough to replant 20% of the coffee area of Tanzania. In order to achieve a widespread range of contact and distribution of the new varieties it established a network of 400 farmer groups, each of which would manage a nursery to produce the hybrid coffee plants and make them available to farmers in the local area, These participants are trained in the grafting and clonal propagation techniques that produce a plant that comes to maturity quickly.

Sebastian worked with TaCRI in introducing the new varieties to coffee farmers in Kibosho East. The trees, which are planted from cuttings, start bearing within 2 years (compared to 5 years if planted from seed). Mother trees were planted in the nursery of the ABCP project partner Kibosho East Environmental Group, and cuttings from the trees were planted in pots until mature enough to be replanted in farmers' fields. Sebastian distributed over 20,000 trees and personnel from TaCRI often brought visitors and groups to tour the KEEG plot. Local initiatives like this are of great importance for the Tanzanian government in achieving its goal of re-energizing the coffee sector.

Estimating that only one percent of Kilimanjaro coffee farmers were currently growing resistant varieties, Sebastian also began to do educational outreach, working with small local groups teaching them the basics of coffee cultivation and care so that they could educate other people in the area about horticultural methods and begin replacing their disease-prone trees with new varieties, organically grown. He also began producing an organic pesticide/fertilizer combination for coffee trees made from Tephrosia, marigold, clay soil and manure tea and then fermented for 10 days. This combination is a powerful pesticide, not only for coffee pests and leaf rust, but also for those of other crops.

Shade-grown coffee is ecologically friendly and protects biodiversity and animal and insect populations. Since much of Kilimanjaro coffee is shade-grown and therefore dependent on other tree species to provide the needed shade, part of Sebastian's outreach was to help provide organic shade tree seedlings. These were selected from hardwood species that can supplement the smallholder's resource base with important domestic products such as fuelwood, timber, fruits and nuts, and thereby reduce vulnerability to fluctuating market prices and crop failure. Sebastian's formula for numbers of trees planted on shade grown coffee farms was the ratio of 15 hardwood trees and 20 banana plants for every 50 coffee trees. Some of the hardwood species distributed from the nursery were: Macaranga kilimandsharica, Podocarpus latifolius or Yellow wood, Grevillea robusta or Silk oak tree, Albizia kilimandscharica, and Rauvolffia cafra or Wild mango tree.


seba70.jpg (19725 bytes)Sebastian was invited to deliver a number of addresses about conservation during conferences he attended. In 2000 he attended a conference on "Wildlife Management in the New Millennium" at the Mweka College of Wildlife Management. He spoke on mpingo conservation and during the conference met 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 worked with 5 colleagues to draw up a plan for environmental education programs in the schools of Tanzania.

During the 1990's Fauna and Flora International (FFI) took 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 was 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 was 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 served to expand the work of the ABCP, enabled it to greatly enlarge the ABCP mpingo nursery and afforded Sebastian the means to purchase an all-season 4wd vehicle. 

February, 2002: During Winter Olympics ceremonies at Salt Lake City, Sebastian received The Spirit of the Land award, presented to 10 US and 5 international conservationists who 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 was elected to political office as Councilor of his ward of Kibosho East. This position gave him a voice in local and central government and facilitated his efforts to coordinate and encourage various environmental initiatives and tree planting campaigns.

1999: Sebastian was appointed Chairman of the Kilimanjaro Environmental Conservation Management Trust Fund by the Regional Government Authority of Kilimanjaro Region, Tanzania. This office gave him membership in the Regional Environmental Conservation Committee.


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

Updated after his death, Sebastian's Curriculum Vitae and
Biography 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 04 October 2017.