A GATHERING of world forestry experts learned how an EU-funded project headed by a University of Huddersfield professor is helping communities in Ethiopia to protect and sustain their forests, while improving their livelihoods by accessing and selling forest products such as wild coffee, honey and spices.
The model that has been developed by Professor Adrian Wood and his colleagues takes a Participatory Forest Management (PFM) approach. In South West Ethiopia - sometimes named "Green Ethiopia" - it has enabled over 55 village communities to take over and manage large areas of forest in a region where the wild Arabica coffee plant evolved and one of the few places where it still grows wild. Maintaining this environment and protecting the wild coffee genetic resources is acknowledged to be a challenge of global importance.
When the World Forestry Congress held its 2015 meeting in Durban, South Africa, one of the papers presented to delegates described the Wild Coffee Conservation project in South West Ethiopia. It was co-written by Professor Wood, who is director of the Centre for Sustainable and Resilient Communities, based at the University of Huddersfield.
His fellow authors included the forestry expert Dr Motuma Tolera, of Hawassa University in Ethiopia. A member of the research team and a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Huddersfield, he presented the paper to the Congress. Its other authors were Dr Mulugeta Lemenih, of the organisation Farm Africa, and Peter O'Hara, of PNRM Consultants.
Wild Coffee Conservation project
Professor Wood and the University of Huddersfield have been working in South West Ethiopia since 1996. The current Wild Coffee Conservation project, backed by the EU and the UK Government-funded Darwin Initiative, began in 2010 and comes to a close in May 2016.
"The government has handed 76,000 hectares of forest to 55 different village communities in four districts of South West Ethiopia," said Professor Wood. "About 6,000 families are involved in the management of that forest and there are more than 100,000 beneficiaries."
The continuing role of Professor Wood and his colleagues includes helping communities to develop monitoring procedures, verified by the Ethiopian government, which help ensure that neither the forest nor its wild coffee plants are being damaged.
"Most of this forest has been handed over in the last two years, so we haven't a long-term record, but the monitoring which has been done shows that on the whole the forest has been stabilised," added Professor Wood. "It is being maintained and the communities are actively going out and protecting their forest, harvesting the wild coffee under controlled conditions as well as improving their standard of living."
Now Professor Wood and the Centre for Sustainable and Resilient Communities are seeking funding for a further three years' work in Ethiopia, to ensure the sustainability of the institutions that the forest communities have developed and to bring more forest under community management.
From 2017, there is to be an EU-funded eco-region project in South West Ethiopia and Professor Wood aims to see the wild coffee project included. This would enable a comparison of the effectiveness and sustainability of community-based Participatory Forest Management for maintaining biodiversity and an alternative approach known as Biosphere Reserves, in which communities are excluded from 'core' areas of the forest.
Professor Wood argues that for political and economic reasons, the biosphere approach - heavily backed by UNESCO - would work less well in the Ethiopian forests than PFM, which empowers communities and is more sustainable in the long term. This was one of the arguments made in the paper presented at the World Forestry Congress.
Research paper: http://eprints.