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FEATURE STORY February 15, 2018

How Sustainable Guitars Are 'Instrumental' to the Future of Cameroon’s Forests


Photo credit: Courtesy Chris Sorenson / Taylor Guitars, copyright 2018


  • A key feature of function and beauty on a guitar is ebony wood.
  • All ebony used by Taylor Guitars, a leading manufacturer of acoustic guitars, comes from Cameroon, including the region where the country is working to implement its first large scale program to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
  • Through this collaboration, the government of Cameroon and Taylor Guitars will test approaches to enhance ebony stocks and other important tree species through community-based reforestation, contributing to the economic and social benefits for local people.

The country’s iconic ebony is a traditionally-used resource valued by musical instrument makers around the world.

But Cameroon’s ebony, along with the rich biodiversity in forests, face a long-term threat as more and more land is cleared for agricultural farming and by unsustainable industrial logging practices. Taylor Guitars, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of premium acoustic guitars, observed this trend and launched a project last year with the Congo Basin Institute to help local communities develop and plant different varieties of ebony to boost Cameroon’s ebony stocks.    

“Our Ebony Project brings science and community and practicality together to ensure that ebony survives for hundreds of years to come,” says Bob Taylor, co-founder and President of Taylor Guitars. “Our goal is to leave a lot more than we are taking.”

The government of Cameroon recently joined forces with Taylor Guitars to explore scaling up Taylor’s Ebony Project as part of Cameroon’s program to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (known as REDD+). This new public-private partnership, launched at the Bonn Climate Change Conference, will explore opportunities to apply the approach developed by the Ebony Project. This model combines the provision of seedlings, infrastructure, and training for the planting of ebony, along with fruit and medicinal trees, to communities participating in reforestation and agroforestry projects within the program area. 

“For any project to be successful, you need to have the right incentives in place for local communities,” says Rene Siwe from Cameroon’s Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development. “By giving communities fruit seedling like bush mango or safou along with other plants that have cultural significance and ebony to plant, they can benefit from fruit harvests in the short-term, and the slow-growing ebony harvests can be for future generations.”

Siwe adds, “In Cameroon, there is still a big question about the ownership of trees, so what we are also trying to achieve in this project is to establish silvicultural log books that link the ebony trees we plant to specific individuals and families, so that they are the clear beneficiaries of whatever type of compensation schemes are put in place.”

The Cameroon-Taylor Guitars partnership will also study the ecology of African ebony, and provide communities with important silvicultural training that may ensure sustainable forestry practices will be used for generations to come.


The Ebony Project and Cameroon’s Emission Reductions Program

As an important steward of these ecosystems, the government of Cameroon has committed to a transformative vision of sustainable forest management through its REDD+ initiative. 

Supported by the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, and the German Development Bank, the government has led the design of an ambitious subnational REDD+ program in the southern region of the country. The program area covers about 93,000 km2 of carbon-rich tropical forests, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Dja Reserve, several national parks, a gorilla reserve, cocoa and oil palm smallholders supplying to global markets, as well as many indigenous and forest-dependent communities.

This emission reductions program will work with stakeholders at every level to help shift the forestry and wider land-use sectors towards more sustainable practices in order to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change. Key among these stakeholders are forest-related businesses, and the Cameroon-Taylor Guitars partnership underscores the important role the private sector can play in partnering for sustainable management of forest resources. The partnership’s silvicultural log books could also help inform the wider REDD+ program’s approach to benefit sharing.

To get started, the Cameroonian government is working to commission a study to identify agricultural landscapes in the REDD+ program area that would be suitable for agroforestry, as well as identify suitable species to be planted, and the appropriate community approaches that could be used. The outcome of this study will help prioritize where the initiative should engage first, and what mix of trees species will be planted.

For more on the Ebony Project, watch this Facebook Live chat from the 2017 Bonn Climate Change Conference (COP23): An Innovative Collaboration for Forest Protection in Cameroon with Taylor Guitars