population pressure, climate change
Travelling on foot around mid-day in Addis Ababa is virtually becoming impossible due to the scorching sun. City dwellers argue that the temperature in Addis Ababa is rising, due to the perceived impact of climate change. That is not the case for an Addis Ababan who might find himself in the middle of the last remaining tropical rainforest in the country. One can fall in love with the fresh air which blows on ones face even when the sun is high in the sky, unlike Addis Ababa. However, the residents of the area report a steadily warming environment, as the Kafa Natural Forest is shrinking (almost by half in the last two decades), despite efforts to preserve it, writes Pawlos Belete, Capital Staff Writer.
Beyene Woldemichael is a 42 year old adult man. He is a father of 10, and a polygamist, living with his two wives. He lives in the Kufa Woreda of the Kafa Zone of the Sothern Nations Nationalities and Peoples’ (SNNP) regional state. While he was a young man, he used to farm two hectares of land at the top of one of the hills in his village. However, he was unable to feed his family as it grew steadily, and thus he went about the logical process of clearing the dense natural forest in his vicinity, in order to use the land for farming.
Standing on the land he has been cultivating for the past 22 years Beyene said, “I used to farm up over the hill. Since my family continue to expand, the produce I gather from that land was not sufficient to support my family. So, I pushed down the hill into the forest and added four hectares of land. My former farm is currently cultivated by my elder son while I farm this one. I planted false banana, maize, bean and teff. I have yet to plant coffee and spices here because I can find them in the forest.” He was speaking to Capital , a team of diplomats from the German Embassy, and journalists from different media houses who were paying a visit to the area..
Beyene knows little what the forest means not only to his locality but also nationally and internationally. Its ecological function is believed to be a base for climatic stability beyond regional boarders. That is why UNESCO identified Kafa tropical forest as one of the Biosphere Reserves (BRs) in the world.
Apart from providing fresh air and beautiful green scenery with the natural power to make anybody fall in love with it; the Kafa natural forest is the birth place of Coffee Arabica. This precious forest of the country is shrinking due to climate change and population pressure in the area. The forest cover of the area has decreased by an astounding 43 percent in the last two decades.
The population of the Kafa zone was a little over 300 thousand almost two decades ago when the country experienced a shift in political power and hence ideology. The number of people living in the area has swelled to over one million in the intervening years, an almost three fold increase. The population surge in the area coupled with the changing climate of the globe is threatening the fate of one of the country’s remaining cloud forests.
Ethiopia’s forest coverage went from 40 percent of the country’s total land mass of over 1.2 million square kilometer to below 10 percent in less than half a century.
Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), the oldest nature conservation organization in Germany, is working to keep the last cloud forest in the country and its biodiversity intact. The organization is trying to ensure participatory forest management, in which the local community is organized to protect the forest and share the benefits acquired from such an organized action.
“I am now protecting the forest since I have stake in it. I have honey hives hanging in the forest. I also share the wild coffee we collect as a union,” says Beyene.
In addition to being the birth place of Coffee Arabica, the Kafa natural forest is also home to a number of spices and wild honeys.
Since coffee is the most popular drink in Germany, they are trying to preserve the forest. The organic coffee that grows in the area is currently being shipped directly to Germany after it is screened at the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange Inspection Center in the zone by famers’ cooperative unions organized to safeguard the forest.
The German per capita consumption of coffee is around 150 liters per year. This level of consumption is more than that of water and even beer, according to information obtained from German International Cooperation (GIZ). Ethiopia exported more than 12 metric tons of coffee to Germany last Ethiopian Fiscal year. This represents 27.5 percent of the country’s export.
“Deforestation, climate change, the replacement of the coffee shrub with Khat, and weak linkages among stakeholders are factors identified as threatening to the improvement of coffee production. However, diverse coffee species and vast potential areas in the eight regions of the country present opportunities to expand coffee plantations,” argues Tadesse Eshetu, Coffee Project Coordinator of Jima Agricultural Research Center.
Tadesse said that with the exception of the Afar region, coffee grows in most parts of the Ethiopian regional states.
Forests were signs of peace and hope for the people of the Kafa region, where annual Mikerecho (Council of the Kafa Kingdom) opened by posing questions like: Is the forest calm? Do the bees produce honey? Do wildlife bread? Do the trees bear fruit? If so, the group is peaceful and soul is calm, according to Mesfine Tekle, a native of the area and environmental practitioner with NABU.
However, it seems that such traditional practices are fading away, since some are breaking the traditional rule of protecting the forest.
Biosphere Reserves (BRs):
BRs are sites recognized under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program (MAB). BRs serves as pilot sites for open space learning. It is an approach to nature conservation and sustainable development with a worldwide network of 610 BRs in 117 countries. It promote participatory planning and adaptive management, and does not allow resettlements. BRs are developed and managed by the host country.
The three functions of BRs are the conservation of biologic and cultural diversity like ecosystems, species, genetic diversity and traditional land use; sustainable economic development; and environmental education through effective communication across international networks for research and integrated monitoring.
BRs benefit local communities in different ways: by facilitating price increases for local products through certification at an international level, improving the means of processing and refining products, and supporting local producers through the promotion of organic farming. It also creates the possibility of generating additional income from eco-tourism.
Kafa Biosphere Reserve (KBR):
KBR covers about 70 percent of the Kafa Zone of SNNP regional states. It lays over more than 760 thousand ha of land of stretching across the ten Woredas of the zone, in the southwestern part of the country, however, 43 percent of the forest is already gone.
The forest falls within the boundaries of national and regional forest demarcated as priority areas to preserve endemic floras and fauna. It mainly covers wild coffee areas, wetlands, and bamboo tree ecosystems falling within highland altitudes of 1,500 to 2,800 meters above sea level.
The Kafa natural forest is home to more than 300 plant species representing 77 families. It hosts more than 30 endemic plant species, of which 10 are shrubs, seven are trees, and 13 are herbs.
Out of the eight endemic tree species of the country, five of them are recorded in Bonga and Saja forest; accounting for more than 62 percent of the country and 42 percent of the world. It is also home to 294 animal species of which 61 are mammals, 300 bird species of which nine are endemic and six are migrant. The forest is home to 56 percent of Ethiopia’s endemic bird species.
NABU promotes climate protection, adaptation to climate change, facilitates forest conservation for sustainable use, supports sustainable development, reduction of poverty, and supports protected areas like the UNESCO’s BR in the Kafa Zone of the Southern Nation Nationality and Peoples Regional States. It also campaigns for the conservation of biodiversity and supports local conservation organizations, says Svane Bender-Kaphengst, Head of the Africa Program at NABU.
NABU supported the establishment of Kafa BRs with a number of partners from 2006 to 2010. In 2010 UNESCO accepted Kafa as one of the first BRs in Ethiopia. In 2011 KBR was officially launched in the presence of high level officials including the president of Ethiopia, Girma Woldegiorgis.
The organization has more than 500,000 members and supporters, 16 regional branches and 30,000 volunteers. Its annual turnover has reached 21 million euro. NABU is the German partner of Bird Life International networks. Employing more than thirty professionals, NABU is working in the area for more than four years now with a total cost outlay of over 3.2 million euro.
At the end 1990s deforestation was the order of the day for Kafa natural forest, following the political change in the country. The then Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the SNNPR regional state in collaboration with FARM Africa, an NGO, piloted participatory forest management systems to safeguard it. The scheme was financially supported by the government of the Netherlands.
The historic turning point for the present alliance was established during phase two of the project, when German based Geo Rainforest and DSW, private companies based in Germany, pumped additional financial resources into the project at the beginning of the third millennium. It helped to engage other natural conservation organizations from Germany in 2003. The first private companies like Amber Foundation and Amber Corporation served to help in the establishment of Kafa Forest Coffee Marketing Cooperatives Union aimed at the marketing of forest coffee. The formation of the union serve as an incentive to motivate conservation and management of coffee forests. This is a historic pull to draw various positively contributing institutions like NABU, GIZ and a number of other organizations.
In 2006 the idea of biosphere reserve establishment bloomed, as NABU’s international reputation grew. At the same time the planning and establishment process of KBR had begun within the framework of the Public Private Partnership (PPP).
The application for nomination was submitted to UNESCO in September 2009. After almost three years KBR was nominated as one of the World’s Networks of Biosphere Reserves within UNESCO’s Man and The Biosphere Reserve Program (MBR) in June 2012. The rationale behind the nomination specifies the importance of the area as the origin of Coffee Arabica.
Despite efforts to preserve the area, elders, adults and the young of the area unanimously speak of increasing temperatures and rainfall variability, as compared to the temperature and rainfall rate they were accustomed to when they were teens.
“This area used to get nine months of rain. It’s temperature is very suitable. Last cropping season the rains came almost two month later than the usual time, as a result maize production almost failed. The sun is getting hotter than before. All of this is unusual to our past memory,” said the local residents.
What the future holds for this unique forest endowed with beautiful green scenery and the biological wealth it harbors, is the question that would keep running through your mind if only you had the chance to visit.