New CITES Certifications for African Blackwood, It’s Been Leading to This

The global piping community seems to be in a tizzy because the the recently announced addition of species of Dalbergia, including Dalbergia melanoxylon (African blackwood) to the Convention of International Trade for Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix II. On January 2, 2017, the tree will officially be a part of the list.

It’s important to cut through the bluster and realize that the addition of the tree to this particular list simply means that participating countries must create some sort of management process that addresses the protection required of all species on this list when it comes to export. Mostly, this requires that new species added to the list would be rolled into current certification and monitoring. Yes, global trade will be more restrictive but global trade in the natural materials of anything on this list requires tracking and certification when exported to other countries in order to protect the resource.

Trade in African blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon), or mpingo as it is called in Tanzania, the primary country where this tree is grown today, has been the subject of scrutiny for the better part of a decade or more, as has been all species of Dalbergia. Market data from 2007 indicated that illegally harvested blackwood accounted for 96% of the market—most of that as a result of clear-cutting land for farming. The use of valuable blackwood for luxury items such as cell phones and toilet seats did not help matters. Stricter controls and tighter rules have allowed growers in Tanzania to create a sustainable crop of the tree that follows all the necessary regulations required for legitimate trade. There is no reason to believe that any these suppliers would be affected in any way by new monitoring as their product is already certified by recognized global organizations.

Way back in 2007, I wrote an extensive piece for the EUSPBA’s The Voice magazine, “Blackwood Down,” that gave a thorough overview of African market conditions and predictions of what it could mean for future bagpipe makers. One of those predictions was that a more tightly controlled market for blackwood would encourage the use of alternative woods for making Highland bagpipes. Some things have definitely changed in the 9 years since, but it is still well worth a read for bagpipers to get a sense of the market conditions for the wood that drives our art.

Read “Blackwood Down.”

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