Nesredin Abdurrahman is an 18-year-old Ethiopian student who works half days as a sentinel on a reforestation site in Bufata Tiyara, Gore woreda, Oromia. He and his friend take turns watching the site to ensure that no human interference or animal grazing endangers the plants that the community are growing on their land. Thanks to technical and logistical support from the Oromia Forested Landscape Program (OFLP), more than 17,000 tree seedlings have been planted to date in two sites divided by an old airport field on the outskirts of the Gore woreda. Gore is one of 49 “deforestation hotspot” woredas in Oromia Regional State, where the BioCF Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscape (ISFL) program is working to combat deforestation.
The program, which started in May 2017, aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve sustainable forest management in the region. The program draws on an $18 million grant to finance on-the-ground investments and is allotting Emission Reductions Payments at a rate of $5 / ton for verified emissions reductions up to 10 million tons ($50 million) through 2029. OFLP aims to bring a total of 120,000 hectares of forest area under formal forest management and reforest 9,000 hectares by 2022. After two years of implementation, investments on the ground have yielded promising results in terms of reforestation area and Participatory Forest Management (PFM): about 9.8 million seedlings have been planted over nearly 3,400 hectares in the last two rainy seasons and about 22,770 hectares of forest area have been brought under the umbrella of forest management.
The afforestation/reforestation (A/R) activities carried out under OFLP in the Gore woreda are particularly critical because the area is situated in one of the last two relatively intact high montane forests remaining in the country— the impacts of deforestation here are likely to stretch far beyond the borders of the woreda. Absent strong action in this region, Ethiopia’s aspiration to build a green climate-resilient economy by 2030 and fulfill its Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement (as well as other global climate commitments) could be put at risk. The Gore woreda is located in Southwest Ethiopia, home to arabica coffee as well as headwaters for the second major tributary of the Nile. It influences rainfall distribution across many areas of the country and is of vital importance to the overall ecosystem.
The forests of Illu Abba Bora in particular trap considerable reserves of carbon and are a critical source of atmospheric moisture for climate stabilization in the drought-prone Northern Highlands. Furthermore, these forests are instrumental in supporting everyday livelihoods and allowing communities to achieve climate resilience. Marginalized groups and women in particular rely heavily on natural forests for their livelihoods. In the most densely forested regions, between one third and one half of annual household income stems from forest resources.
The Bufata Tiyara A/R sites are fenced to avoid animal and human interference, and the local community has established bylaws that clearly outline the fees to be paid by the owners of trespassing animals. In addition to the guards, members of the community regularly look after the seedlings until the plants are fully grown. At one of the sites, women community members have proven particularly precise in planting the seedlings and effective at taking care of them. According to Mr. Desalegn, chairperson of the community group of Bufata Tiyara-2, their commitment is exemplary: he has said they are as dedicated to nurturing the seedlings as they are to providing for their own children. For this reason, the seedlings in this site are developing fast and looking very healthy. Thanks to the A/R efforts in the region, the remains of the old trees are regenerating themselves, promising a revitalization of the natural forest and a return of all the various indigenous trees that once defined the landscape.
OFLP is supporting similar A/R activities in other hotspot woredas in Oromia, contributing to Ethiopia's ambitious national “green legacy” initiative. By the end of the rainy season this year, the government of Ethiopia had planted over 3.5 billion trees, an effort which required every citizen to sow 40 seedlings. As part of this initiative, officially launched by the Ethiopian Prime Minister on May 26, 2019, 350 million trees were successfully planted on July 29 alone. The initiative aims to increase substantially Ethiopia’s forest coverage, which according to the UN declined from 30 percent to 15.5 percent between the late 19th century and early 21st.
A leader on climate action, forests, and sustainable land management, Ethiopia set a precedent with this program. The benefits of OFLP go beyond emission reductions to include poverty reduction and resilient livelihoods, biodiversity conservation, promotion of household energy options (affecting mostly women) and water provisioning services important for the current and future energy profile of Ethiopia. This innovative approach has been already used as a model for similar programs in Colombia, Zambia, Mozambique and the DRC and has the potential to help build green legacies in countries around the world as we collectively move towards a sustainable future.
Photos by Binyam Teshome on behalf of the BioCarbon Fund Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes.