African blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) is one of the world’s most valuable timbers, with few parallels in terms of the qualities required for woodwind musical instruments. It was once widespread in dry areas of sub-Saharan Africa, but over-harvesting and illegal trade have seen a drastic decline in tree numbers. The last populations are now confined to remote forest areas in southeast Tanzania and northern Mozambique.

Thankfully, the Sound and Fair campaign is promoting responsible trade in African blackwood, with an FSC chain of custody that links forest-dependent people in Tanzania to woodwind instrument makers and musicians throughout the world.

In March 2009, the first FSC forest management certificate for community-managed natural forests in Africa was granted to the Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative (MCDI), a Tanzanian non-governmental organization (NGO). Only nine months later, the first FSC certified African blackwood was harvested in Kikole. After this initial success, the certified area increased eightfold in 2010, to more than 17,000 hectares – or 170 square kilometres!

The world’s first FSC certified woodwind instrument was launched in January 2011 by Hanson, the UK’s largest clarinet manufacturer – making the final link in the chain, from sustainably managed community woodlands to top quality musical instruments from responsibly-sourced timber.

Before FSC certification, local people could not sell African blackwood or any other timber. Earning a living from wood harvesting was limited to piecemeal rates helping licensed loggers. The village chairman, Mr Mwinyimkuu Awadhi, said: “The communities of Kikole Village have realized for the first time the benefits from selling our own timber. All the money was paid to the villages unlike in the past where this money would have gone to the government. We, the villagers, now have full control of our forest resources and we will benefit even more when we do more harvesting in the near future.”