Saving Ethiopia's Yayu Coffee Forest Biosphere Reserve

Caring for seedlings in a tree nursery in Ethiopia.
Caring for seedlings.

The International Climate Initiative (IKI) advocates for the empowering of local communities and the preserving of heritage.

Coffee is Ethiopia's most important export commodity, accounting for an average of 30% of total exports. Around 4.5 million smallholder farmer families in Ethiopia rely on coffee farming for their livelihoods and income. This creates job opportunities for approximately 15 to 20 million people.

Improving the Garden Coffee Systems

Families who use so-called "Garden Coffee Systems" often lack advanced Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) in coffee production and management. However, coffee cultivated in semi-forested areas or directly at the farm buildings in this “Garden Coffee” approach holds great potential. Unlike many other crops, coffee plants thrive in agroforestry systems, presenting ideal conditions for growth.

Smallholders in Ethiopia also face challenges with pre- and post-harvest handling, including processing methods, storage, and transportation. As a result, their productivity is relatively low, ranging from 400 to 600 kilograms per hectar, compared to the potential productivity of 1.1 tonnes per hectar. Low productivity levels significantly impact the quality of coffee beans produced, making it challenging to meet export market demands. In addition, low productivity levels contribute to the search for alternative income sources, such as forestry, which could put the Yayu Coffee Forest Biosphere Reserve (YCFBR) at risk.

The "Restoring Degraded Coffee Landscapes in Ethiopia" project, funded by the IKI, aims to enhance the livelihood of communities residing in the transition zones of the YCFBR. The pressure on the natural forest, considered a biodiversity hotspot, is increasing in these areas. By improving livelihoods and diversifying incomes, the project endeavours to reduce the risk of encroachment into the buffer and core zones of the YCFBR. At the core of the 167,000 ha Yayu Biosphere Reserve is a high genetic diversity of coffee Arabica and should remain untouched by human activities. This project holds great promise for both environmental conservation and the well-being of local communities.

In the transition zone, coffee grows naturally under shade trees, often growing wild rather than being intentionally planted. However, the smallholder families who use it do not manage it properly. As a result, yields are low and there is a looming risk of cutting down shade trees to make room for more coffee cultivation. This poses severe consequences, including loss of biodiversity, diminishing CO2 storage potential, and the destruction of the heterogeneous ecosystem where coffee flourishes.

People working in a tree nursery.
Working in a tree nursery.

Trainings in Good Agricultural Practice 

The project aims to address productivity challenges in the community by offering GAP trainings, implementing climate adaptation measures, promoting women's participation in household affairs, strengthening local capacities, involving youth in agriculture, diversifying agricultural products to increase household income, improving forest cover, and establishing partnerships with local institutions for participatory implementation. Economically strong farmer families are less likely to encroach into protected forest areas. 

Additionally, the work includes contributions to the restoration of degraded coffee lands through interventions to enhance forest cover. 

Successes of the IKI project

Since the project started more than 458,000 of planted seedlings survived, bringing the survival rate to 90%. These include coffee, banana, avocado and forest trees. The total carbon sequestration in three years accumulated to 13,000 tons CO2 eq. For the year 2024, 183,000 coffee seedlings are getting ready in nurseries for planting.

The project reached more than 2,000 smallholder families, eight cooperatives, and one union, including women and youth groups. In 2023, those were reached with 2,500 training contacts on climate change.

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Zukunft – Umwelt – Gesellschaft (ZUG) gGmbH
Stresemannstraße 69-71

10963 Berlin


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