African Blackwood Conservation Project

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

You are visitor number ? to ABCP since June 18, 1996.

This section of this website is no longer being maintained. The African Blackwood Conservation Project has a new home at as of 1 May 1999. Please stop by this location to see the latest information about the project.

The gentleman on the left in the photograph is Mr. Sebastian Chuwa, a botanist who lives in Moshi, Tanzania, in view of Mt. Kilimanjaro. He is standing next to a tree which he planted 5 years ago outside the US Embassy in Dar-es-Salaam. The tree is African Blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon), or Mpingo in his native tongue. This wood is the foremost source of wood for concert-quality woodwind instruments and is the premier natural material available today for ornamental turning, as well as traditional Makonde carvings by native Africans. If you have ever heard the mellow tones of a jazz or classical clarinet solo, you have been listening to the natural sound of an instrument made of Mpingo. I have used this wood since the late 1980’s in my ornamental turning work and its qualities of fine texture, density, stability, and surface finish have no equal.

Mr. Chuwa's work takes him over large areas of East central Africa, and he has learned much about the native flora of the area. I first became acquainted with Mr. Chuwa in the 1992 BBC-TV documentary The Tree of Music which was shown on US Public Broadcasting System stations. In the film he was briefly interviewed. Subsequently I was able to contact him by mail and to learn more of his conservation efforts in regard to Mpingo and other native trees.

The following two sections cover in brief what the African Blackwood Conservation Project is about. More extensive information is available from the table of links at the bottom of this page.


Heavy, continuing commercial harvesting, spreading desertification and increasing population pressures with their associated set-fires and livestock grazing present a serious threat to the continued availability of African Blackwood in several decades. As an ornamental turner, I would feel a tragic loss to no longer be able to use this wonderful wood and so I feel a responsibility to our own and future generations to see that the Mpingo tree survives and thrives; it is also a vital element in the East African ecosystem.

Mr. Chuwa has started a program aimed at replenishing the native stands of African Blackwood. His program consists of paying local villagers to water and care for Mpingo seedlings planted in recycled tin cans until they are of a size and vitality to resist the fires which threaten them in the wild, and then replanting these seedlings into their native habitat. He has received almost no support since the film came out four years ago, and as he said in The Tree of Music in 1992, "my 200 Mpingo 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." Tanzania is a poor country and any assistance offered to this program could be very helpful. The average wage in Tanzania is US $480/year.

A Plan for Action

To address these issues, Mr. Chuwa and I have collaborated to create a program which I have called the African Blackwood Conservation Project (ABCP). The initial stage of this project envisions a one-acre plot, donated by the village of Moshi, filled with seedlings of Mpingo and other native hardwoods emulating a natural growth forest of the Tanzanian savannah. With fencing, a piped-in water supply feeding an irrigation system, basic nursery tools, a shelter building and wages for an assistant to tend the site full-time, this project could begin to reintroduce Mpingo and native hardwoods back into their natural habitat within a year. After nurturing the seedlings to a size and vitality that they could resist some of the threats to their growth, they will be replanted in the wild. In his travels throughout eastern Africa, Mr. Chuwa will be gathering seeds for the nursery.

Once a foreign exchange account, which requires a $400 balance to initiate, is set up in a local Tanzanian bank, funds can be directed towards this project. The proposed wish list details the necessities and costs for creating the infrastructure and funding for most of the first year's efforts for the project. Additional funds will be necessary to cover expenses incurred in traveling and acquiring seeds from the wild for planting. Once the infrastructure is in place, the ongoing costs will be for maintenance with minimal funding required for supplies, seed gathering and an ongoing salary for a nursery attendant.

This project is a direct-action, grass-roots effort to have a positive impact upon the ongoing environmental degradation of our planet. By wise planning now, we can insure that this valuable natural resource will maintain its vital role in the local ecosystem and be available for the future harvesting of mature trees for woodwork purposes. All of the funds collected will be directed towards the direct implementation of the project in Tanzania minus only a small percentage fee paid to a Tanzanian bank (an unavoidable cost for an international exchange of currency) to convert the US funds into Tanzanian currency. If the project proves viable I will continue an ongoing committment of time for future fundraising activities as well as time devoted to the organization, management and accounting duties of ABCP in the US. I am donating a portion of the profit from the sales of my ornamental turning to Mr. Chuwa and his effort. If you would like the opportunity to contribute support to this cause, one in which all funds go directly to support the actual conservation efforts in the field, you may download a donation form.

In June I have initiated a fundraising mailing to solicit funds to accomplish the first stage construction of the infrastructure of the ABCP. I am donating my time at no cost and contributing personal funds to the expense of this mailing.The various documentation included in this appeal is posted on this site and available from the links below.

Some Basic Facts About Mpingo from PBS Nature Series - "The Tree of Music"
What is ABCP? Mpingo Botanical Information
Why should I care? Blackwood and OT
Who is Sebastian Chuwa? Sebastian's Wish List
What can I do to help to plant more Mpingo trees? *ABCP Progress Updates*
Flora and Fauna International/SoundWood Conference on Mpingo in Mozambique

Thank you for your consideration of this appeal. Won’t you please join me in supporting this worthy project, so that together we can begin to take some positive steps in insuring that African Blackwood continues to play its unique role both in its native habitat and around the world? I hope that if this opportunity for replenishing one of the gifts of nature is as compelling to you as it is to me, you will be moved to contribute your support to the African Blackwood Conservation Project. Let not the Tree of Music be silenced for our children and grandchildren because no one in our era thought of planning for its future. Please send your check or money order to the address on the donation form..

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