Mpingo tree

The Mpingo or Blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) is the national tree of Tanzania and is one of the most valuable species of trees in the world. It is currently threatened by overlogging , but could provide long-term income for rural communities if harvested in a sustainable way.

BBC article on the mpingo tree

The wood from Tanzania’s “mpingo” tree (also known as blackwood) is used to make flutes, clarinets, oboes and even bagpipes, making it one of the most valuable plants in the world.

The forests of southern Tanzania remain a stronghold, although this may not be the case if the current rate of deforestation continues.

Sustainable Blackwood

  • Sound & Fair aims to realise a sustainable trade in African blackwood through a chain of custody linking forest-dependent people in Tanzania to woodwind instrument musicians throughout the world.
  • If mpingo is harvested by communities in a sustainable way, it could provide reliable long-term income to communities, giving them an economic incentive to conserve and protect their forests. It also has the potential to be a flagship species for conservation.
  • Blackwood has several other uses, it is traditionally used for carving by several tribes in East Africa, in particular the Makonde, whose tribal lands straddle the Tanzania-Mozambique border, are renowned for their blackwood carving. Today blackwood is used for carvings sold to the tourist trade. Local people also use blackwood to make pestles, knife handles and supports for buildings and in house construction. The tree also has some uses in traditional medicine.

The Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative

Mpingo, the East African Blackwood tree, is used to make clarinets and oboes, and is the medium of choice for local wood carvers. Its dark, lustrous heartwood is one of the most valuable timbers in the world.

The tree is under-threat from over-exploitation and could become commercially extinct. However it also has great potential to act as a flagship for conservation of the coastal forests and miombo woodlands of East Africa

Dalbergia melanoxylon – Wikipedia

The dense, lustrous wood ranges from reddish to pure black. It is generally cut into small billets or logs with its sharply demarcated bright yellow white sapwood left on to assist in the slow drying so as to prevent cracks developing. Good quality “A” grade African Blackwood commands high prices on the commercial timber market. The tonal qualities of African Blackwood are particularly valued when used in woodwind instruments, principally clarinets, oboes, piccolos, Highland pipes, and Northumbrian pipes.