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The Project


Save Frankincense

The Cal Madow, which literally means “black mountains”, is a range of mountains in the north of Somaliland, a country that is primarily arid savannah to desert ecosystem. The Cal Madow is an uplifted limestone escarpment that rises up to 2,460 meters above sea level, stretching from eastern Somaliland to western Puntland. The mountains receive high levels of rainfall and ocean mists, and as a result are covered in thick forest that harbors high levels of biodiversity. The Cal Madow is unique–there is nowhere else on earth like it.

Save Frankincense is a conservation and research project aiming to protect the Cal Madow forests and the frankincense economy.


The Cal Madow

The Cal Madow and its surroundings are also home to Boswellia carterii and Boswellia frereana, two species of trees that produce frankincense resin. Communities here have been tapping these trees for thousands of years, and today they supply some of the best quality resin and essential oil on the market. The trade of frankincense resin is key to the ecology of the Cal Madow, and is an African cultural legacy.

However, the mountains today are under threat. Increasing international demand and a growing population has put pressure on frankincense harvesters to cut trees at unsustainable levels. Over-cutting, along with drought and an increasing number of pests is causing the trees in some areas to decline and die at alarming rates. In addition to the frankincense tree decline, the forests are cut for charcoal production and timber, and mining operations threaten to pollute the water supply. Furthermore, the forests are under increasing stress as climate change alters the patterns of rainfall and oceanic mists upon which the forests depend.

We are working with a diverse group of governmental, academic, corporate, and private partners to address these threats. We are working to protect the Cal Madow forests and ensure a fair and sustainable frankincense economy.


Who We Are Working With

We are working with a diverse group of governmental, academic, corporate, and private partners to address these threats. The main objective of our applied research is to save the frankincense and myrrh economies from collapse, as both are culturally, economically, and ecologically important for the communities of the Sanaag region in Somaliland. We approach this work with the need to understand how locals have traditionally used the trees, how trees have responded to the use and how current pricing and demand are affecting both the wellbeing of people and trees in the region. Ultimately we hope to find the “sweet spot” between healthy trees and secure communities. We realize that a new factor has added to the relation between trees and people in this semi-arid region: a less predictable weather pattern due to climate change. As dry and wet seasons change, we expect that both trees and people will be affected. This makes our work of quickly finding smart ways of making a living with resin trees even more urgent.


Find Out More

Key Issues

Our Solutions to  Issues

How You Can Help

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