THE tropical rain forests of South West Ethiopia are a precious, but vulnerable environment. They can be safeguarded if local communities are able to earn a living from sustainably-harvested natural resources, such as wild coffee and honey. The University of Huddersfield has played a key role in enabling this, and a new £374,000 award from a UK Government initiative will extend the scope of the project.
Now, Ethiopian products such as forest fruits, peppers, wild chillies and cardamom could come to market, meaning a better livelihood for villagers so that they continue to resist destructive redevelopment and illegal settlement.
Professor Adrian Wood is a member of the Sustainable and Resilient Communities research cluster, part of the Centre for Sustainability, Responsibility, Governance and Ethics at the University of Huddersfield’s Business School. He and his colleagues, and partner organisations in Ethiopia, have earned a succession of substantial grants so that they can support communities in developing a system known as participatory forest management in these Ethiopian rain forests.
It means that local communities are trained to organise themselves in order to take responsibility for the maintenance and development of the forest. A study has shown that rates of deforestation are more than 14 times lower in these community-managed forests than outside.
The latest funding award comes from the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative, which has already provided backing for a project led by Professor Wood that focussed on wild coffee as a valuable commodity.
“We now have 100,000 hectares of tropical rainforest under management by the communities – but for forests to be maintained by communities there has to be some value for them,” said Professor Wood.
“In 25 per cent of those hectares, there is wild coffee – a valuable product. But in 75 per cent of the forest there is no coffee, so there is a need to find other non-timber products that can be marketed sustainably in order to make the management groups in those areas agree that it’s worthwhile to maintain their forest.”
Products that could be marketed include Ethiopian cardamom – milder than the Indian equivalent, said Professor Wood – and wild chillies – “small, but very dynamic!”
There are also long peppers that are used as a spice and the project will investigate the use of Ethiopian forest fruits in jams. The forest mahogany tree – locally named the luya – yields seeds that are used in southern Africa to make a highly-valued face cream that so far has not been developed from Ethiopia. Now, the project will investigate its international potential and the harvesting of luya seeds could provide greater opportunities for women in forest communities.
The Darwin Initiative funding of £374, 420 over two years and nine months will enable the recruitment of two more Ethiopians to join the six-strong project technical team already in place in the country, backed up in the UK by members of Huddersfield’s Centre for Sustainability, Responsibility, Governance and Ethics. Research Project Manager Matt Snell pays regular visits to Ethiopia, where long-standing partners include the Ethio Wetlands and Natural Resources Association.
Training will be an important element in the new project. It is vital that forest products such as cardamom and other spices are properly dried so that they can be successfully marketed by the project’s commercial partners.
“We are trying to develop the value chains for these forest products, to get more money to the communities and improve their livelihoods,” said Professor Wood.