In the decade that followed, MCDI has assisted 25,000 people in 16 rural communities in southern Tanzania, encouraging them take control of their local forests through participatory forest management. Community members are granted user rights, which allow them to manage or co-manage the forests next to their villages and directly benefit from their resources. MCDI communities manage 180,000 ha of forests under this system.

Mpingo is the Swahili name for the East African Blackwood, a tree species common in the area. Mpingo timber has become one of the most expensive in the world, valued in particular because of its qualities for making exceptional musical instruments. In Kenya, mpingo is already commercially extinct, and Tanzanian mpingo could face the same fate within 20 years if nothing is done to reverse current trends in illegal logging.

In 2009, MCDI received the first FSC group certification in Africa for the natural forest it manages with two of the villages it works with, Kikole and Kisangi. Since then, ten other communities have been added to the group certificate.

Last October, MCDI Chief Executive Officer, Jasper Makala, told FSC Communications Officer Jesse Cruz: “MCDI sees FSC certification as a ground-breaking solution to conservation and poverty alleviation”. For MCDI, FSC certification helps forest communities to maximize the value of their timber. The income of the villagers increases – in five years, the communities have earned $200,000 from certified timber sales –as they learn how to exploit and preserve their forests sustainably. In 2011, the world’s first FSC certified clarinet – produced by Hanson Clarinets – was made with mpingo from Kikole. MCDI’s commitment to FSC was further demonstrated last year when it became a member, giving it the right to take part in FSC’s processes of decision-making and governance.

© Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative

After ten years of collaboration, the social conditions of the villagers living in the MCDI communities have improved as their incomes have started to increase. Six school buildings and accommodation for nurses and midwives have been constructed, while a village marketplace has been equipped with solar panels. Six new boreholes have been sunk, meaning that water supply has also improved. The communities have also provided 320 school uniforms and health insurance for 12 vulnerable community members.

Now the initiative also links the partnering villages with international clients who are looking to invest in community-owned forests. This collaboration has generated more revenue, which in turn has meant returns on investments for participating businesses, as well as a further increase in the average income of the communities.

To find out more about MCDI or its ten-year celebration, please visit their website.