This large tree, commonly known as ‘African mahogany’, occurs in the moist lowlands of Tropical Africa with a range extending from Senegal in the west, to Sudan in the east and Uganda in the south. It usually exists in the transition zones between wooded savannah and dense semi-deciduous forests in more humid regions.
In Uganda, Afzelia africana occurs in the wooded grasslands in the north-western regions of the country. The largest populations of this species are found in Mount Kei Forest Reserve (bordering South Sudan) and the Otze Forest Wildlife Sanctuary. A small proportion of these populations can be found on community lands.
Despite having an extensive range across Tropical Africa, this species has experienced severe population declines. These declines are driven by a range of factors, including pressure as a form of livestock fodder. Furthermore, Afzelia africana is harvested as a source of traditional medicine and the is selectively and intensely logged for its African mahogany timber. Saving this species would preserve a traditional medicinal tree in Uganda and, with the introduction of sustainable harvesting practices, would maintain a valuable aspect of the Ugandan timber trade.
Local community members will be directly empowered as seed of Afzelia africana will be collected and grown in a community-led nursery. Community members will be trained to plant and restore forests with threatened trees species such as Afzelia africana. Training will also be delivered on how to establish a monitoring programme, which is essential for determining growth rates and seedling health.
These training programmes will also increase awareness of the various uses of native tree species and directly address the need to promote threatened species conservation. A more direct benefit will be that local communities will gain access to new food sources, medicines and materials to be used sustainably once trees reach maturity. Saving this species will also serve as a source of food to attract local wildlife, thus increasing the potential for eco-tourism in the region. Furthermore, by saving this species local communities will be better able to protect their cultural heritage.
Tooro Botanical Gardens has already propagated 1,500 seedlings of Afzelia africana in 2020. Funding will enable propagation and planting of this threatened species to be significantly scaled up.