How can I help?

Current harvesting of mpingo to make musical instruments is not sustainable. This is clear from the long term trend whereby logging has moved southwards from Kenya, through northern Tanzania, to the present harvesting areas of southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique. It is also evident every day in the forests where we work, where good quality trees are being stripped out far quicker than they can regrow. In 2004 over 70% of the timber extracted from southern Tanzania was illegally felled, and rural communities receive a tiny percentage of the ultimate value of the logs. Some logging companies are more responsible than others, but the practices of the worst offenders have driven international prices down to unprecedented levels in recent years. To compete even the better companies have to play dirty or face going out of business. However it does not have to be like this.

Responsible logging coupled with more efficient sawing practices could provide a long-term sustainable supply of mpingo for the manufacture of musical instruments and the indigenous carving industry. Law enforcement is inadequate and under-resourced. Local communities are in a position to regulate logging if given the incentive of a fair price. Our community forestry programme, supported by new laws in Tanzania, is addressing just this. Now logging companies can extract timber from new Village Land Forest Reserves that are managed by the local communities. However, they will have to pay villagers a fair price and only harvest a sustainable amount.

The catch

In order to make a clarinet, oboe or bagpipe the timber has to pass through the following supply chain:

  • Logging company / sawmill
  • International timber dealer
  • Instrument manufacturer

We and our partners have tried approaching various companies operating along this supply chain. But for a few exceptions, all believe that there is no real demand for ethical products, and that instead price rules. Even though the price of the wood that goes into the instrument is only about 1% of the final sale price, most manufacturers appear more focused on the price of the wood and not where it comes from or how it got to them. They seem to think that their ultimate customers, which is you - the musicians, do not really care.

What you can do

We need you to prove them wrong. Contact the manufacturer of your instrument. Ask them what they are doing about this. Demand they put greater pressure on their suppliers to harvest responsibly and adhere to best practice. The lowest priced timber is not necessarily the best! Suggest the manufacturer gets in touch with us if they are having trouble sourcing sustainably felled timber from well-managed forests. Next time you buy an instrument put all these questions to the staff in the shop. Do not buy instruments which have been made by companies who do not respond to your concerns. And please tell all the musicians you know about this. We need to get the message out far and wide to develop a critical mass of concerned consumers.

Don't get fobbed off

Until recently manufacturers have not been able to buy timber from a scheme such as ours, so they can be forgiven for past practices. Even now we do not have a sufficiently large area of community forests to supply enough wood to satisfy the annual demands of the musical instrument trade. But, we can supply a significant fraction of that market, and if we can demonstrate success in our pilot areas by selling sustainably harvested timber to manufacturers then we can scale up quickly. So while manufacturers cannot switch immediately to 100% sustainable timber, they should have a clear commitment and strategy to improve their wood sourcing over the next few years, with elimination of irresponsible suppliers an eventual goal in 5 years time.

Logging companies may attempt to reassure the manufacturers about these issues. They will claim to adhere to some code of best practice, that it is their competitors who are guilty of unsustainable, illegal logging, and that cooperating with us is impractical. Unfortunately the tropical timber trade's record on such matters is abysmal; self-regulation is not working. Independent certification by bodies such as the Forest Stewardship Councilâ„¢ is the only way to be sure logging companies are sticking to their commitments.

Contact us If you want to help out in other ways, or want further information not available on this web site, please email us at enquiries@mpingoconservation.org.