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Bizarre Species

lunes, 15 de junio de 2009

Bagpipe Wood Goes Green; African Villagers to Profit

In a move that should be music to the ears of forest conservationists, the African blackwood tree, also known as mpingo, is getting increased protection in Tanzania.

Two remote villages in the East African country will harvest and sell eco-certified mpingo, a slow-growing tree that is highly prized for making clarinets, oboes, and bagpipes.

It is the first time that local communities in Africa have obtained certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international nonprofit organization that encourages responsible forest management.

Most FSC-certified forests around the world are commercially owned temperate or boreal forests found in cooler climes.

"This is the first time a rural community in Tanzania has had the chance to really benefit from their local forests," said Steve Ball, the international coordinator of the Mpingo Conservation Project in Tanzania.

Previously, "well-connected outside loggers … have taken all the loot for minimal payment," Ball said.

Traditional Uses

African blackwood has been overharvested across Africa by loggers who value it for its dark, lustrous heartwood.

It's been heavily logged out in Kenya, where it's now commercially extinct, and northern Tanzania.

But the thorny tree, which is smaller than most other timber species, is still common in southeastern Tanzania and northern Mozambique, where most harvesting now takes place.

Illegal logging, however, is rampant in Tanzania. One 2005 study by TRAFFIC, the wildlife-trade monitoring network, suggested that 96 percent of timber extracted from southeastern Tanzania was illegally logged.

Blackwood is the preferred source material for ethnic Makonde wood carvers in Tanzania.

The tree is also used in various forms of traditional medicine, especially in childbirth—a mulch of mpringo leaves is believed to make newborn babies strong.

But the wood is most highly prized for making musical instruments, due to its density and high oil content, which protects woodwind instruments from the degrading effects of spit and moisture carried in the breath of the player.

"There is also a strong element of acquired market preference," Ball said.

"Musicians expect a black instrument, so manufacturers make sure they deliver them one."

Somewhere between 65,000 and 100,000 wooden clarinets and oboes are produced worldwide each year, as well as under 10,000 bagpipes components, according to Ball.

"Ethically Sourced"

The two villages—Kikole and Kisangi—are located in the coastal Kilwa district in southeastern Tanzania. With between 1,000 and 1,500 inhabitants each, the villages are extremely poor, with average household incomes under a dollar (U.S.) a day.

Before the Mpingo Conservation Project began working in Kilwa in 2004, loggers had to pay the local village a hundred Tanzanian shillings (U.S. $0.08) per log taken out of the surrounding forests.

Loggers were also required to pay a government royalty fee of about 12,000 Tanzanian shillings (U.S. $9.60) per log of blackwood. But Ball said many loggers simply ignored the fee.

Under a new government-backed program, however, local communities can assume ownership of the forests and profit from timber sales, as long as they manage the forests sustainably.

With the timber labeled as "ethically sourced" by the FSC, the villages of Kikole and Kisangi will be able to charge up to 25,000 Tanzanian shillings (U.S. $20) per blackwood log, Ball said.

"As the market develops, we hope that communities should in fact be able to charge a significant premium on top of that, potentially doubling the price of certified blackwood timber or more," he said.

Mwinyimkuu Awadhi is the chairman of Kikole village.

The project has "given us a good education on how to manage our forests," he said.

"Fortunately, we have plentiful stocks of mpingo, so we can make the most of this opportunity."

The first timber was harvested this spring. Because the wood must then be properly dried—a process that takes at least one year—the first FSC-certified blackwood instruments are expected to be available sometime in 201

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