Sustainable Ebony Farming in Cameroon

Sustainable Ebony Farming in Cameroon

As part of UCLA’s Environmental Science Practicum program, we are partnering with Taylor Guitars and Madinter to develop a model for sustainable ebony production in Cameroon. In 2016-17, UCLA Practicum students initiated a preliminary study of the potential to turn sustainable ebony production in Cameroon into reality, and proposed a series of specific pathways to meet this goal. This effort identified substantial gaps in our knowledge and available data on co-cropping techniques, domestic education and conservation efforts, as well as in community engagement and participatory development. Collaborating with researchers at the Center for Tropical Research and UCLA's first international affiliate, the Congo Basin Institute, this year we will be working to create an economic model for sustainable ebony harvesting that makes sense for local communities, producers, and consumers, and will be gathering social and environmental data to close the gaps in our understanding of sustainable ebony production.

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Specifically, we will be focusing our efforts on improving our understanding of where and under what conditions the West African ebony grows and of its basic physical and growth characteristics. We will also conduct a comprehensive study of the market for the trade of ebony and its consumption across the globe, including analyzing ways to improve the efficiency of its use. Because ebony trees can take 60-200 years to mature and become economically viable, increasing the number of healthy ebony trees being cultivated while improving the short-term economic viability of growing ebony for local communities, who must invest significant amounts of time and patience to grow the ebony trees, is critical to any future for sustainable practice.

We are the UCLA Undergraduate Research Team for Sustainable Ebony Production in Cameroon, participating in the Senior Practicum for Environmental Science majors in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability (IoES). The senior practicum is a year-long capstone program that allows us to put our knowledge of environmental science to work on critical, real-world environmental challenges for clients in government, the non-profit world, and business. As seniors at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, we are learning that saving the world will require us to go beyond campus and outside of our comfort zones to become a positive influence in an unfamiliar setting. In this project, we will focus our efforts on implementing best practices to participation in forest governance, improve community buy-in, and create accountability for forest policy makers, while recognizing the rights and needs of indigenous communities.

As undergraduates, we learn not just from lectures in a classroom, but by researching and experiencing problems, adversity, and challenging issues first hand. But to accomplish this, we have to get out from behind our desks at UCLA. With the help of UCLA Spark and generous donor support, the UCLA Taylor Guitars Undergraduate Research Team will be able to travel to the Congo Basin Institute in Cameroon, plant trees with local community members, collect data, and successfully complete our project. 

However, we cannot get there without your help! Your support will allow us to turn our proposals for sustainable ebony production into reality in Cameroon and change the fate of Cameroonian communities who are dependent on the ebony for their well-being.

By donating today, you are pledging your support to our cause and to the sustainable preservation of a rare world commodity. With the help of Taylor Guitars and UCLA IoES, you can be a part of something bigger and get something in return, including a Taylor guitar t-shirt and coasters, a Taylor guitar mini, and the opportunity to meet Bob Taylor on tour of one of the Taylor Guitar facilities!


In case we can't get to Cameroon, given political, fiscal or other difficulties, we will be sure to let our donors know and seek an alternate field study location. This may affect the giving away of some of our perks.

Your support means the world to our team, the local people in Cameroon that rely on ebony production, and the future of ebony in musical instruments and on this planet.  The future of ebony is literally in your hands - please contribute to this cause and tell those close to you about it too! Stay connected through our Facebook page, emails and live social media updates (coming soon).

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Our project is all about the ebony trees of Cameroon, or Diospyros crassiflora. These trees are known for their dark black wood which is often used to produce musical instruments such as guitars and pianos. Ebony trees take about 80 years to mature... cutting them down takes about a minute. Without an appropriate model to regulate commercial logging activities, illegal and unsustainable logging would put an entire life worth of time, and the survival of a species, at risk in a minute. We are here to protect the ebony trees and help save the world #onetreespecies at a time.


Just like all of Earth's other resources, ebony comes in a finite number of species, and within each species, a finite number of individuals. Unfortunately, low ebony population numbers coupled with high demand for their wood has left them subject to overexploitation. Currently, D. crassiflora is on the IUCN's Red List, meaning the species is threatened with global extinction. 


At the heart of the operation, the community and the people involved in country is what makes this all possible and their livelihood is important to Taylor Guitars, Madinter, UCLA, and our research team. 

We believe in a hands-on approach to research, and to create the best possible model for the project, we need to experience Cameroon, ebony, and the community that cares for these trees in person. Thus, the core component of our project would involve a trip to the Crelicam sawmill in Cameroon to implement (at least preliminarily) our proposed mode of production and facilitate changes in the mill as well as the local communities. As the first student research group to collaborate with UCLA's only international affiliate, the Congo Basin Institute, we believe that our work would be a positive influence to all involved stakeholders including the community in Cameroon and UCLA.

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