Preserving and sustainably using the last mountain cloud forest in Ethiopia

Two extended hands holding red coffee beans

Picture: Bruno D'Amicis

Kafa is one of the last mountain cloud regions in Ethiopia. The Kafa biosphere reserve is around 760,000 hectares and is largely covered by mountain cloud forests where wild arabica coffee grows. However, creeping deforestation and the spreading of agriculture are threatening the reserve. Today only a fraction of Ethiopia’s forests, which used to cover around 40% of the country, remains. The deforestation and destruction of tropical forests is a major source of climate-damaging greenhouse gases in the country and threatens reserve areas for many rare animal and plant species.

Wild Coffee Forests and protecting Biological Diversity

The project financed by the International Climate Initiative (ICI) is working towards protecting, reforesting and sustainably using the wild coffee forests and their biological diversity. It works closely with the local government, local population, Ethiopian and international experts, as well as the civil society. To date around 1,500 community members are organised in forest user groups and will be trained for and involved in the management of six forest areas totalling nearly 4,000 hectares.

Sustainably operated community plantations are to generate a long-term supply of fast-growing firewood for the population and thus protect the natural forests. To reduce the demand for wood in general, around 11,200 energy-saving ovens have been produced locally to date, and these are being distributed throughout the project area. Fifty-three nurseries have been established, and around 175,000 seedlings have been grown there so far for reforestation and the renaturisation of native and crop species. In addition, the project is enhancing protected area management by financing and training rangers and is educating the population through environmental education programmes.

Sustainable Tourism supports Regional Development

Regional development in the Kafa biosphere reserve is also playing an important role: tourism infrastructure such as wild coffee adventure paths, wild animal and bird observation towers with a network of hiking paths and access roads, a historical open-air museum, educational seminars and a model lodge are to generate income. Through this work, the project supports the Ethiopian Government in building up the tourism sector in Ethiopia in the long term. Climate and forest monitoring is determining the condition of the forests and the impacts of the project.

Thirty local rangers, who are employed and trained by the project, are on hand to support both residents and visitors to the biosphere reserve. They provide advice on appropriate agriculture, organise guided tours and gather information about the plants and animals on the reserve. It is expected that the project will substantially improve the local population’s standard of living.

UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

In June 2010 the region was included in the worldwide biosphere reserve network of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The project helps preserve this valuable ecosystem and at the same time secures the vital livelihoods and sources of income for the local population.