I actually own a wooden clarinet, but I hadn't even heard of the African blackwood tree, also known as mpingo, until I read this article in National Geographic News. The slow-growing, dark-colored tree is used to make woodwinds and bagpipes. Turns out, it's also about to make life a little better for two Tanzanian villages.
In the past, all it took for an unscrupulous logging company to harvest its fill of African blackwood was an inside connection. Overharvesting made the tree commercially extinct in Kenya and wiped out the supplies of northern Tanzania. The Mpingo Conservation Project, however, aims to save the resources of southern Tanzania. With the help of the government and the recent Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification of Kikole and Kisangi, Tanzania, it looks like the group may have succeeded.
Before the FSC certification, villages only received a small percentage of the fees charged on loggers -- something like U.S. $0.08 per log -- if the fees were paid at all. Now, the local communities will own the forests themselves (an anomaly in FSC certification, a standard usually applied to commercial forests). As long as the villages maintain the land's sustainability, they keep the timber profits. And since FSC "ethically sourced" African blackwood can go for up to U.S. $20 per log, Kikole and Kisangi have major incentives to protect their resources.
Don't rush out to buy your FSC-certified blackwood bagpipes just yet, though. Since it takes a whole year for mpingo to dry, the first products won't be on the market until 2011.