Where we Work

Mpingo Conservation Development Initiative

On The Map

We work primarily in south-eastern Tanzania, where there are still substantial stocks of mpingo. Much of our work is focused in Kilwa District, where we started engaging with PFM back in 2004 and expanded to other Districts such as Liwale, Namtumbo, Nachingwea, Tunduru, Songea, Rufiji, Ruangwa, Mtama, Monduli, Kiteto, Kilindi and Handeni.

Coastal Forests

The Eastern Nicator occurs in coastal forests. (c) P&H Harris The coastal forests of East Africa are a biodiversity hotspot of global importance. They contain some of the highest densities of endemic plants of anywhere in the world. Over 550 species of plants, and a total of 776 species across all taxa, are known only from the scattered patches of forest along Africa's eastern edge. Endemic species include Kretschmer’s Longbill Macrosphenus kretschmeri, which is known to occur in the forests of Kilwa. Rates of endemism are particularly high for invertebrate groups such as millipedes (maybe > 80%) and molluscs (68%). The forests of southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique are amongst the least studied of all, and more endemics will probably be discovered.


The Distribution of the Coastal Forests in East Africa
The strict definition of coastal forest applies only to areas where the tree canopies are touching, creating a more closed environment than the open miombo woodlands. However strict adherence to such definitions is not always appropriate. In reality there is often a continuum between closed and open areas. In addition over two-thirds of the estimated original extent has been cleared, and much of the remaining 'true' forest is found only in scattered and isolated fragments. Many of the intermediate areas, given time, would likely return to their natural forested state, and even when degraded may harbour some endemics. Mpingo is a hypothetical pioneer species, and so may have an important role to play in this process.

So far over 200 coastal forest fragments have been identified in Kenya and Tanzania alone. 60% of these are under 500ha in size, and many smaller ones are waiting to be found and investigated. Most of these sites are unprotected and surrounded by poor, resource-hungry rural communities, while existing reserves suffer from high levels of encroachment. Population in the region as a whole is increasing rapidly so without action further fragmentation and degradation is inevitable


Miombo Woodland

Miombo is one of the major dry forest-savannah biomes of the world. It covers much of southern Africa, stretching from mid-Tanzania across to Angola, and down to the northern edge of South Africa, and constitutes the single largest vegetation type in East Africa. The web pages of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme’s Miombo Network have an expanded technical definition. In miombo competition for water during the dry season causes the trees to be quite widely spaced such that their canopies do not form a complete cover. Grasses take up water in the upper horizons of the soil. Any water that infiltrates deeper is used by trees, which are thinned out by competition as they grow.

Miombo is characterised by trees in the sub-family Caesalpinoideae, especially species in the genera Brachystegia and Julbernardia. Typically miombo trees are semi-deciduous meaning that they lose some or all of their leaves in the dry season depending on its severity. The shrub layer is variable in density, percentage cover and species composition, and is commonly dominated by Diplorhynchus and Combretum species. Miombo's structure and composition is largely maintained by periodic dry season fires, which can be a frequent as twice a year in populated areas.

Miombo has been described as "arguably the most important wildlife preserve in the world ... in respect of its animal and plant life alike." Buffalo, warthog, elephant, hunting dog and lion are among the species of game found there. However miombo is a heavily human-influenced landscape and is everywhere under threat from increasing fragmentation. The above-mentioned populations of large mammals require large contiguous ranges, and are likely to suffer drastic declines in numbers if the present rate of clearing and burning continues apace

The distribution of Miombo woodlands in southern Africa


Lying just to the south of the equator, Tanzania is one of the two major mpingo-exporting countries. In terms of biological wealth it is one of the 17 mega-diverse countries (and in the top ten for plant diversity), but its financial resources place it in the bottom tier of the world's poorest countries, with widespread urban and rural poverty.

Tourism is the major earner, and the country is justly famous for its National Parks and wildlife. The Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater are world heritage sites along side Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain, and the tropical island paradise of Zanzibar just off the coast. Mpingo carvings are popular souvenirs for tourist visitors.

These globally renowned destinations are all to be found in the north of the country, but the best stocks of mpingo are to be found in the south-east, in Lindi Region. This is the main area for mpingo harvesting in the country, and where most previous research has concentrated. Even by Tanzanian standards, though, it is a poor and under-developed region. Until recently it was isolated from Dar Es Salaam and the richer north by the Rufiji river which could only be crossed during daylight by a single ferry. This ferry did not operate at all during the wet season, when travel along the unsurfaced roads was virtually impossible in any case.



These globally renowned destinations are all to be found in the north of the country, but the best stocks of mpingo are to be found in the south-east, in Lindi Region. This is the main area for mpingo harvesting in the country, and where most previous research has concentrated. Even by Tanzanian standards, though, it is a poor and under-developed region. Until recently it was isolated from Dar Es Salaam and the richer north by the Rufiji river which could only be crossed during daylight by a single ferry. This ferry did not operate at all during the wet season, when travel along the unsurfaced roads was virtually impossible in any case.

The region lies between 7° 52´ S and 10° 49´ S latitude, and 36° 46´ E and 39° 55´ E longitude. More descriptively it is effectively bounded by the Rufiji River to the north, the huge Selous Game Reserve (the biggest in Africa) to the west, the Indian Ocean to the east, and south is only Mtwara Region and then Mozambique. It is possible to go west from Mtwara and arrive eventually in Mbeya on the main road south from Dar to Malawi and Zambia, however this is a long and rough journey even during the dry season. In the wet season it is unthinkable.

Lindi Region is broken up into five districts: Kilwa (where the project's current activities are based), Lindi, Ruangwa, Nachingwea and Liwale. Lindi Region as a whole covers 66,000km², the same size as the Republic of Ireland. Over the whole region the land seldom rises above 500m elevation. Rainfall averages at about 900mm per year. The soil is of such low fertility that herbaceous crops cannot readily be grown commercially without fertilizing.

Local government, including forestry administration, is split between regional and district levels. Forestry policy is made by the central government (Ministry for Natural Resources and Tourism) and implemented by the District Forestry Officer and his assistants. The Regional Forestry Officer’s job is to co-ordinate work in the districts and advise on implementation of policy. Staff at all levels lack the resources to do their jobs properly.

Importantly for Lindi Region its relative isolation is coming to and end with the recent completion of the Mkapa Bridge over the River Rufiji, and the road all the way from Dar to Lindi and on to Mtwara is being upgraded. It is likely that roads connections with district centres may later also be surfaced. In addition the harbours at Lindi and Mtwara were recently dredged so that export may occur direct from these towns rather than via Dar.

Currently Lindi Region is one of the most heavily forested parts of Tanzania with internationally-important large patches of Coastal Forest, most of which is poorly protected, interspersed with more widely occuring Miombo Woodlands. This situation was largely created by the poor communications both to and inside the region. While being vital developments, these infrastructure improvements are already hastening large-scale deforestation of the region. Because of its high economic value, mpingo is one of the first species to suffer a drastic decline in stocks. All this makes Lindi Region the obvious place for conservation efforts to begin.



Background on south-eastern Tanzania


South-eastern Tanzania is one of the hottest parts of the country because it is low-lying. There are two rainy seasons. Typically the ‘short rains’ are light rains that fall from November to January. After a drier period around February, there are the ‘long rains’, which are heavier rains usually lasting from March to May. Relative humidity tracks rainfall, peaking in March-April.

The mean annual rainfall at Kilwa Masoko (1974-2004) is 1034mm, putting it just inside the wet miombo vegetation category, but rainfall is considered to be slightly lower inland. However, annual rainfall is also erratic (SD 276mm), and becoming increasingly so; the first few years of the 21st century included the wettest (2002 and 2004) and driest (2003) in recent decades. The reasons for this trend is not clear. It could be either because of local changes, such as disturbance of vegetation cover, or because of larger scale processes, which might be cyclical or directional such as global warming.

There is also considerable monthly variation in rainfall. For example, in December 1993, when the short rains were expected, it did not rain at all. As farmers are dependent on rain-fed agriculture, in drier years local people often need food aid.

Access & Communications

Until May 2000 south-eastern Tanzania was largely inaccessible, being linked to Dar es Salaam, the largest city in the country, by a single ferry across the Rufiji River. The construction of the Mkapa Bridge across the Rufiji was an essential investment facilitating much-needed development in the impoverished area to the south. This bridge is part of the upgrading of the Dar-Mtwara road (B2), which runs north-south through the District. Previously, in the rainy seasons the area lost its road links with the rest of the country, such that goods could only be taken in and out by sea. That situation has now greatly improved.

Another improvement in communications in recent years was the arrival of mobile telephones in 2003. At first the networks served only the main towns of Kilwa Masoko, Kilwa Kivinje, Kilwa Kisiwani, Nangurukuru and the villages between them, but latterly has expanded to cover much of the district.


The completion of the Mkapa Bridge made movement of goods and people much easier. There is anecdotal evidence of net migration into the District. It has become cheaper to send local timber, crops and fish to market in Dar es Salaam, and transport costs to bring in manufactured goods from outside the area for sale have decreased. New businesses are opening, particularly in Kilwa Masoko. However, despite these very recent changes, the District remains poor.


Ruvuma Landscape

The Ruvuma Landscape includes parts of both Southern Tanzania and Northern Mozambique. It extends from Lake Niassa/Malawi in the West, along the Ruvuma River basin, to the Indian Ocean in the East. This area includes a number of globally important eco-regions - Miombo Woodlands, Eastern African Coastal Forests, Lake Niassa/Malawi and Eastern African Marine - and marks the interface between the Eastern and Southern Africa bio-geographical regions.


The vegetation is dominated by miombo woodlands and has an abundance of large forest blocks. These forests serve as important biological links for wildlife to migrate between the Selous Game Reserve (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) of Tanzania and the Niassa Game Reserve of Mozambique. Together, these constitute the largest trans-boundary natural dry forest ecosystem in Africa, covering 150,000km2.


Despite its ecological importance, the Ruvuma Landscape faces huge conservation and development challenges, such as: encroachment by pastoralists, shifting agriculture, illegal logging, poaching and gem stone mining. In 2014, we partnered with the World Wide Fund for Nature in Tanzania, MJUMITA (Mtandao wa Jamii wa Usimamizi wa Misitu Tanzania) and Local Government Authorities to address these challenges. We have joined forces to support rural villages, in Ruvuma Region, to unlock the economic value in Ruvuma's forests by setting up village forest reserves and managing these for forest based products. The benefits provide beneficiaries with concrete incentives to protect their forests from further exploitation and illegal practices.