National Geographic: Cameroon’s embattled ebony trees get a lifeline—from guitar maker
The guitar industry has a spotty track record for sustainable wood sourcing. But one manufacturer is trying to help stave off deforestation.
WIELDING A MACHETE, Noël Nakere Dobo Nkouli hacks a path through thick vines crowding the tropical forest outside his village in Kompia, in Cameroon’s rural southeast. Every few yards, he digs a shallow hole in the rich, red soil and plants the leafy sapling of an ebony tree, an iconic indigenous hardwood species with a jet-black interior that is prized for sculptures, piano keys, furniture accents, and stringed instrument fingerboards.
Since last year, Nkouli and his neighbors in a handful of other villages in the area have planted more than 5,000 ebony trees. The trees won’t be mature enough to harvest for a century, but Nkouli sees them as an investment in future generations at a time when the forests of central Africa are quickly disappearing under pressure from agriculture and logging.
Their work is part of an ambitious reforestation effort supported by an unlikely patron: the American guitar manufacturer who equips the likes of Taylor Swift and Jason Mraz and is among Africa’s biggest commercial consumers of ebony.