Our partner the Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative (MCDI), has recently achieved international recognition for its work in conserving the coastal forests of Tanzania. Co-founder and CEO, Makala Jasper, was singled out from more than 130 other applicants to receive an international conservation award from the Whitley Fund for Nature.
Accepting the award from the Princess Royal at the Fund’s annual ceremony in London in April, Makala explained,
‘Rural Tanzanians need support to understand how to conserve their forests. They need to see the connection between healthy forests and the food on their plate, and clean water flowing from their streams, and their children attending school. I help them make that connection.’
So far, MCDI has helped 35 communities to make that connection and those communities now manage 300,000 hectares of some of the most valuable hardwood forests and wildlife corridors in the world.
It is the mpingo or African Blackwood tree that makes these forests such a valuable financial resource. At the award ceremony, Makala told an audience that included David Attenborough,
‘It’s a very ordinary tree. You could walk past it not knowing that it is one of the most valuable timbers in the world. That this, to us, is as valuable as gold.’
One of the things that gives the tree this value is that its timber is perfect for making woodwind instruments. Sadly, the wastage in the manufacturing process is huge because the mpingo often grows in a gnarled and twisted fashion that limits the parts of the wood that can be used. ITF is helping to reduce future wastage, and thus maximise community income, by funding MCDI’s pioneering research into the environmental factors affecting timber quality.
In the past, the value of the mpingo has been wasted by illegal logging for firewood and farming. But since MCDI set up their forest stewardship scheme, earnings per log have gone up a hundred fold and sustainable forestry has raised more than £150,000 for the communities involved, money that is ploughed directly back into local schools, healthcare, and community improvements.
Makala says that winning the Whitley Award means that,
‘MCDI can now expand our work to an entirely new area – the first step to connect existing community forests and their wildlife with one of Africa’s largest protected areas.’
The first step will add another 200,000 hectares of forest to community stewardship, whilst MCDI’s ultimate aim is to bring a further eight million hectares of currently unprotected forest into the scheme, creating a protected corridor for wildlife that will link the community forests with the Selous Game Reserve.
As Makala points out, the benefits will be huge for the rural Tanzanian communities, for the wildlife, and for the world, and ITF is naturally proud to be supporting such important work.
Many congratulations on the award, MCDI. You deserve it.
by Rachel Whittaker