From seed to tree
Mpingo (Dalbergia melanoxylon) - our organisation’s namesake and the national tree of Tanzania – is one of the most expensive timbers in the world. It’s an East African Blackwood renowned for its beautiful inky-black colouring and considered to be one of the finest wood types. The best quality timber can reach up to $20,000 per cubic metre, fetching twice the price of mahogany and teak. From a conservation perspective, the unsustainable extraction of Mpingo means that it is now threatened with commercial extinction. Locally, Mpingo is commonly used for wooden souvenir carvings but internationally the most common use is for musical instruments, woodwind in particular, due to its high density and extraordinary durability. If managed in a sustainable manner, Mpingo could continue to be a valuable resource for the communities who live in the surrounding forests as well as for international musicians. Unfortunately, the trade of Mpingo is often inequitable but our aim is to change this and ensure that local communities receive the benefits of the timber instead of large-scale loggers. This would result in improved livelihoods for indigenous communities as well as a more sustainable approach to timber extraction, avoiding depletion of these beautiful trees. The result? A win-win for forest conservation and the communities that depend on these forest habitats for their everyday survival.
In our tree nursery in Nanjirinji village we specifically focus on growing and nurturing Mpingo trees, in 2019 alone we have grown at least 6,000 seedlings to be planted in the forest. Planting Mpingo (and other trees) follows a step-by-step process to ensure a high survival rate and that the majority of our seedlings make it into the outside world. Firstly, we start by thoroughly cleaning the nursery area, making sure to remove any waste or grass that could damage the seedlings, before conducting necessary protocols such as putting a water tower in place and building fences to protect the trees from wild animals.
After all the necessary requirements are in place, we start collecting the correct soil for planting – a mix of sand soil and forest soil. The forest soil is especially important; we collect it from underneath existing Mpingo trees where the ground is full of fallen leaves which compost into the soil and offer vital nutrients necessary for the seedlings to grow healthily. After we have collected the correct soil, we prepare seed beds and sheds to offer shade from the strong African sun. We then plant the seeds in a three-tier process: first, we put a layer of sand soil upon which the seeds are sown, this is followed by a top layer of nutrient-dense forest soil. The young seeds are then watered every day as well as being cleaned and monitored on a regular basis by members of the Village Natural Resource Committee.
After three months, these baby seedlings will be big enough to go out into the real world and be planted in pre-prepared plots in the forest. After just one year they will have grown to approximately forty centimetres, but it will take at least another seventy to one-hundred years before they’re ready for commercial harvesting. When they’re ready we harvest them and process the timber in our sawmill ready to be sent to both national and international buyers. We repeat this process every year, making sure that we are collecting, growing and planting more and more Mpingo seeds to ensure the survival of this incredible tree.