The project is addressing the NTFP-related activities of harvesting, processing and marketing, with 5,000 people across the four districts. As with any economic activity there will also be spin-off benefits as trade increases so the total number of beneficiaries will be greater. The specific areas of activity and the partners roles are as follows:
A first challenge has been to identify the appropriate legislation and government departments under which the establishment of Micro Enterprises (MEs) in rural areas could be arranged. The MEs were established under the Department of Enterprise and Industry Development and have been linked to cooperatives established by an earlier project in order to gain access to safe storage facilities. By 2021 twelve MEs were operating with 146 members of whom 56% were women. Five MEs focused on honey, three on forest fruits and four on spices.
The coops have also provided facilities for the training carried out with the MEs, although other training has been carried out in the field and at the training centres of partners.
The quality of many forest products is affected by post-harvest handling due to the humidity in the project area. Spices need to be dried properly, while fruits need to be used before they deteriorate. In addition, honey should be harvested at the time when water content is lowest and smoking the hive to calm the bees needs care so as not to affect the quality of the honey. Production of honey from ground located transitional hives has also been developed through training by Apinec staff in order to facilitate the involvement of women in beekeeping.
The production of cosmetics, chutneys and jams is being explored in order to add value to forest fruits and seeds. High value and low bulk items such as these may be one way to make careful forest management worthwhile. One partner, ecopia, has run a series of courses for women in such processing. Future areas of work with the seeds from Forest Mahogany will be explored once the results from laboratory analysis are produced.
Private sector partners are involved in this project to provide advice and linkages to value chains along which the various NTFPs and related products forest can travel to market. These partners include Apinec and ecopia, as well as the Bench Sheko Cooperative Union. There is considerable risk in exploring how items used locally can be marketed commercially hence the critical role of these partners.
Monitoring Biodiversity and Forest Management
Community skills in biodiversity monitoring – a sort of citizen science approach – are being developed through training and practice so as to build skills for ensuring sustainable harvesting of NTFPs. This is a new practice in the country and one shared with the federal level Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute for wider application.
Sharing Knowledge / Lessons and Influencing Policy Makers
The project holds regular workshops with local communities ensuring that lessons from one locality are passed on to those in other areas. There are also meetings with government staff and discussions about the implications of these lessons for policy on forest management and conservation, as well as trade in forest products. Female government staff have been encouraged to take a lead in supporting the micro-enterprises.
Socio-economic data has been collected in years 1 and 3 by an independent consultant. This comprises household level surveys and focus group discussions. Household surveys involved speaking to the household head; where this is a man, women were surveyed separately. Focus group discussions were split by gender (male/female group discussions followed by a general group discussion) and written up in a gender sensitive manner. In addition to these independent surveys, all project data is disaggregated by gender.