Research by the Centre for Sustainable and Resilient Communities (CSRC) is helping to maintain the tropical forests of south-west Ethiopia whilst improving the livelihoods of those who rely on them.

What was the problem?

The forests in this south-west Ethiopia play a critical role at local, regional and global levels. Globally, they mitigate climate change, storing 300m tonnes of CO2/annum, whilst also holding the wild gene pool for Arabica coffee. Regionally the forests and wetlands are important in moderating flows on the Baro-Akobo river, part of the Nile Basin system, that impacts on agricultural production in the Ethiopian lowlands, Sudan and Egypt.

Benefits of this research

Identifying sustainable forest management and small-scale business development opportunities has led to increased resource production, links with national and international markets and increased incomes. Over 105,000 hectares of degrading forest are being transformed into a working and profitable resource and 18 new enterprises now serve around 100,000 people. At a regional level, project-supported changes in legislation with regard to forest access and use of forest products mean that an estimated 15 million people benefit from new forest enterprise development opportunities

What did we do?

For the past 20 years, researchers at Huddersfield have collaborated with Ethiopian partners to explore how to achieve sustainable natural resource management. Key to encouraging this is increasing the economic value of natural resources and so encouraging communities to look after them in sustainable ways. This research began with a four-year project on the wetlands of south-west Ethiopia and has continued with 12 years of work on forest management. In the early stages of the project researchers identified the importance of community-based enterprises and established a local Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) and a European Economic Interest Grouping (EEIG) to provide support for inter-disciplinary research.
In countries such as Ethiopia, which has lost more than 75% of its forests in recent decades, participatory forest management (PFM) has been identified as a way to jointly maintain the natural environment and enhance the lives of local communities. The economic value of the forests can be developed through increased production, improved product quality and enhanced market links. As well as providing prospects of economic growth for communities, PFM also provides opportunities to learn new skills and provides motivation for the sustainable use of the environment, contributing to a notable reduction in forest clearance in recent years.

What happened next?

More than 100,000 forest users have been directly affected by Huddersfield’s work, whilst another 200,000 in the area and up to 15 million in the region have benefited indirectly. Communities now actively manage over 105,000 hectares of forest, while trade in coffee, honey and spices is transforming the local business landscape. Seven cooperatives and six honey-marketing companies have been established, with trade increasing tenfold since 2008. Supported by research from Huddersfield the co-operatives, PLCs and local traders have forged relationships with buyers in the German fair-trade market (GEPA), The Body Shop in the UK and national level spice traders.

Professor Adrian Wood is the Director of the Centre for Sustainable and Resilient Communities (CSRC) and founder of Wetland Action, both of which focus on working with communities to encourage sustainable approaches to managing landscapes under threat.

Professor Wood published a book on this subject: Wetland Management and Sustainable Livelihoods in Africa. Calling for a major shift in attitudes to wetlands, the book focuses on communities and multiple use of sites as key ways to sustainably use and maintain these areas. Contributions from 17 experts in the field include Professor Wood, who was co-editor with Dr Alan Dixon (University of Worcester) and Dr Matthew McCartney (International Water Management Institute).