Less than 5% of Ethiopia’s original forest remains today. Ethiopia experiences 0.8% deforestation per year, and is down to 4.6% forest cover. The rapidly growing population of 85 million and the 70 million livestock put pressure on land forests.
With 80% of the population living in rural areas, deforestation in Ethiopia affects their livelihood. Before 2007, the forest in Ethiopia was government-owned. Michelle Winthrop, Country Director of Farm Africa Ethiopia, helped pioneer an initiative in 2007 to place responsibility for the forest on the local communities.
“You can stick up a big fence around the forest,” Winthrop says, “but people climb fences. If you embed the ownership for the protection of the forest in the hands of communities, it is much more powerful.”
The majority of the rural population are members of the cooperatives that protect the forest; therefore, forest dwellers no longer cut down trees for fuel or livestock grazing. The forest condition has improved a great amount, allowing an opportunity for impoverished forest dwellers to find more sustainable ways of earning income.
In the Bale region, Farm Africa is implementing a participatory forest management scheme. Of the 23,000 households covered by the project in the Bale region, about 3,500 have taken up growing coffee and bamboo, as well as learning how to become bee-keepers.
Farm Africa provided agricultural expertise and equipment to start harvesting coffee and honey, rich natural resources of the Bale region of southern Ethiopia. Along with the transfer of power to local communities, those people are now also able to produce high-value crops and have connections to lucrative market opportunities.
“We built people’s relationship with that coffee and helped them understand that a small amount of it, carefully harvested, is important both for their own pockets and also the condition of the forest,” says Winthrop.
An unexpected outcome of the participatory forest management project has been a sense of civic responsibility, leading to more stable communities and building democracy at the grassroots level.
– Haley Sklut