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Makala Jasper receiving the 2016 National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in African Conservation. Credit: Randall Scott/National Geographic Society.

Awards for mpingo maestro are music to FFI ears

Posted on: 30.06.16 (Last edited) 30 June 2016

The head of one of Tanzania’s most successful conservation organisations, which grew out of an initiative launched two decades ago with support from Fauna & Flora International (FFI), has won the 2016 National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in African Conservation.

Makala Jasper, co-founder and CEO of the Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative, was honoured for his “outstanding accomplishments” at an awards ceremony attended by HE Wilson Masilingi, Tanzania’s Ambassador to the United States, at the National Geographic Society’s headquarters in Washington DC.

As a founding partner of the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP), FFI has a long association with Makala and the species after which his organisation is named. The African blackwood, known locally as mpingo, yields one of the world’s most valuable timbers, highly prized by musical instrument manufacturers and local woodcarvers.

Twenty years ago, the species was threatened with commercial extinction as a result of overharvesting. In 1995, FFI organised an international workshop in Mozambique to promote sustainable use of mpingo. The following year, with CLP support, a team of Cambridge University students and Tanzanian forest botanists embarked on the first of several research expeditions to Tanzania under the auspices of the Cambridge Mpingo Project.

Makala in conversation with local community members. Credit: Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative.

Makala in conversation with local community members. Credit: Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative.

In 2004, having successfully developed sustainable community-led forestry practices for the beleaguered blackwood with support from three successive CLP awards worth a combined total of US$75,000, the project team established the Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative (MCDI).

With Makala at the helm, the organisation is protecting biologically rich miombo woodland and other threatened forest habitat in East Africa by promoting sustainable and socially equitable harvesting of valuable timber stocks and other forest products. Addressing environmental, economic and social issues holistically, it has, to date, provided support to over 55,000 people in 37 impoverished rural communities, and has helped to secure user rights to more than 300,000 hectares of forested habitats.

MCDI currently holds the only Forest Stewardship Council certificate in Africa for community-managed natural forest. To date, these community forests have earned local people more than US$265,000 in sustainable hardwood timber sales, and income continues to increase. Revenues have been used to improve the livelihoods of local people – including the most marginalised members of those communities – by, for example, creating new water boreholes, building schools and improving village medical care.

Sustainably harvested mpingo timber bearing the official MCDI stamp. Credit: Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative.

Sustainably harvested mpingo timber bearing the official MCDI stamp. Credit: Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative.

Makala has always been keen to acknowledge FFI’s contribution to these achievements: “Through CLP support, [the organisation] was transformed from a student research expedition into a practical conservation organisation in 2004. Today it is one of the most successful conservation organisations in Tanzania.”

FFI’s Stuart Paterson, Executive Manager of CLP, hailed Makala’s achievements as “the culmination of years of commitment to Tanzania’s biodiversity and people. His ambition and vision to further MCDI’s work will pay dividends long into the future.”

The National Geographic Society/Buffett Award will undoubtedly raise the profile of Makala’s work. It will also provide vital financial support for future projects in the form of a US$25,000 grant and help him to continue developing the programme to conserve Tanzania’s forest and woodland habitats.

This coveted award comes hot on the heels of another prestigious prize for Makala. At the end of April, he attended a ceremony in London to accept a 2016 Whitley Fund for Nature Award, presented by HRH The Princess Royal. These awards, familiarly referred to as the ‘Green Oscars’, recognise the efforts of influential conservationists who use their research on threatened species to raise awareness about the issues they face and build lasting programmes to protect them.

Makala collecting his 2016 Whitley Award from HRH The Princess Royal. Credit: Whitley Fund for Nature.

Makala collecting his 2016 Whitley Award from HRH The Princess Royal. Credit: Whitley Fund for Nature.

The Whitley Award, worth £35,000, will also open up new avenues for his organisation: “It means MCDI will expand its work to an entirely new area – the first step to connect existing community forests and their wildlife with one of Africa’s largest protected areas.”

Makala Jasper was not the only conservationist with FFI connections to receive a Whitley Award in 2016. Among the other winners presented with their awards in front of Sir David Attenborough and over 550 assembled guests at London’s Royal Geographical Society was Alexander Rukhaia, a 2016 CLP Award winner.

The first Georgian ever nominated for a Whitley Award, Alex is working with local communities in his home country to change attitudes to migrating raptors that are traditionally shot or captured for falconry as they pass through the so-called Batumi Bottleneck. In his role as director of SABUKO, BirdLife International’s local partner, Alex is collaborating informally with FFI in Georgia, where we recently embarked on a new project to tackle the burgeoning threat to raptors posed by the wildlife trade.

Makala and Alex are the latest in what is already an impressive list of CLP alumni who have received wider recognition in 2016. We look forward to celebrating further successes as the year unfolds.

Alex Rukhaia receives his 2016 Whitley Award from HRH The Princess Royal. Credit: Whitley Fund for Nature.

Alex Rukhaia receives his 2016 Whitley Award from HRH The Princess Royal. Credit: Whitley Fund for Nature.

About the Conservation Leadership Programme

The Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) is a partnership between Fauna & Flora International (FFI), BirdLife International and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

CLP is working to promote the development of future conservation leaders, providing them with the skills and knowledge needed to address today’s most challenging conservation issues.

Cover image credit: Makala Jasper receiving the 2016 National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in African Conservation. Credit: Randall Scott/National Geographic Society.

Written by
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Tim Knight

Tim has worked closely with Fauna & Flora International for many years, and has edited Fauna & Flora magazine since its inception in 2001. His current role is Communications Specialist – Conservation Partnerships.

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Through CLP support, [the organisation] was transformed from a student research expedition into a practical conservation organisation in 2004. Today it is one of the most successful conservation organisations in Tanzania.

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