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More than 90 years to reach adulthood

Shooting up from the rainforest canopy, the moabi’s parasol-like crown stands out clearly in the Congo River Basin forest landscape. This tree is restricted to areas of primary evergreen and old secondary lowland rainforest, up to 500 m in altitude.

The moabi (Baillonella toxisperma) has a low population density (about 1 per 10 ha).1  It only reaches sexual maturity at 90–100 years, and regeneration occurs only under a closed canopy, 2 factors that make it vulnerable to exploitation.2  This may explain why there is a worrying absence of young trees in forests.

The moabi’s many resources

Moabi fruits are eaten, the bark is used for medicinal purposes and cooking oil is extracted from the seeds for sale and domestic use. Timber from the moabi tree is particularly valued on the European furniture market, and harvesting for this purpose has caused the extinction of the species in parts of Cameroon.3

Precious oil

Moabi seeds contain oil that is so highly valued that it is rarely traded or found in markets. The women who are its primary users prefer to keep it for their own consumption.

The tree is considered to be more valuable for its oil than for the timber. Regrettably, the short-term profit gained by logging holds sway over its long-term, oil-producing value. Trees younger than about 100 years are not particularly valuable for either timber or oil.

The moabi and the elephant

Elephants are the primary mechanism for seed dispersal of moabi  trees. As forests are logged, converted to agriculture and demand increases for the meat and ivory of elephants, elephant populations are rapidly vanishing.

If the moabi vanishes, the elephants will lose part of their food source, and if the elephants vanish, the moabi's principal means of distribution across the forest ecosystem will disappear.

A threatened tree

The moabi is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red list 2004 and steps need to be taken to integrate short-term profits from logging with long-term sustainability issues, including the provision of the valued oil (and the host of other medicinal and cultural uses for which moabi is valued).4

1 Debroux L, Delvingt W. 1998. Le Moabi : éléments de maîtrise de la dynamique de population. Canopée No11.
2 White L. 1998. Baillonella toxisperma. In: IUCN 2004. 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed 12/02/2006.
3 Thomas G, Anderson J, Chandrasekharan D, Kakabadse Y and Matiru V. 1996. Levelling the playing field: Promoting authentic and equitable dialogue under inequitable condtions. "Addressing Natural Resource Conflicts through Community Forestry," Forests, Trees and People Programme, Forestry Department, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy, January-April 1996.
4 CARPE. 2001. NTFP Economics and Conservation Potential. Congo River Basin Information Series. Issue Brief #10.