03.07.2012 - Natural Sciences Sector

Testing grounds for sustainable development: Kafa biosphere reserve

© A. k. Makarigakis Coffee ceremony: the roasting of coffee beans - Kafa biosphere reserve, Ethiopia

Kafa is the birthplace of wild Coffea Arabica, which first grew 1,000 years ago in the forest undergrowth. There are now close to 5,000 wild varieties of coffee in this biodiversity hotspot. A unique coffee culture is deeply engrained in the Ethiopian economy and history. This culture is a key element of the participatory forest management scheme created in the Kafa Biosphere Reserve to avoid deforestation and boost economic development.

Only 40 years ago, some 40% of the Ethiopian land surface was occupied by forests. Today, less than 3% remains, largely in the Kafa coffee biosphere reserve, which still boasts large areas of mountainous afromontane cloud forest. The forest ecosystem makes an important contribution to the livelihoods of people in the area. It provides wild coffee, valuable spices and honey from wild bees. It also contains some 25 million tons carbon in above-ground biomass. Some 600,000 tons of carbon could be removed from the atmosphere annually through natural forest growth – if the forest remains intact. But it is endangered due to clear-cutting for smallholder agriculture and industrial coffee and tea plantations.

Two projects address the issue through participatory forest management and public/private partnerships in cooperation with the Ethiopian Government. Under the Participatory Forest Management scheme, local farmers are entitled to collect and market wild coffee cherries under the condition that they conserve the forest where they grow. Today, 12,000 ha of forests are managed by the local community, 27 cooperatives have joined the Kafa Coffee Farmers Union, and wild coffee is the principal source of income of the farmers and their families, a total of 50,000 people.

Another project was developed with local communities to fulfill the need for fuel and allow for reforestation: fast growing trees are planted close to the villages to provide wood supply, while 10,000 efficient wood-burning stoves are introduced to lower wood consumption. Native tree species are being replanted in other areas to mitigate deforestation.

The projects address economic, social and environmental concerns in the long term. New jobs and sources of income are being created, and the conservation of the forest is contributing to carbon sequestration and the mitigation of climate change. Wild coffee beans for the Kafa biosphere reserve have gained recognition in international markets as a high-quality product. Today local communities feel responsible for their forest and value it highly, and an ecotourism plan is underway.

Kafa became a biosphere reserve in 2010. These are sites established by countries and recognized under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme (UNESCO-MAB) to promote sustainable development based on local community efforts and sound science. The International Co-ordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB-ICC) is meeting on 9-13 July 2012 to consider new sites for inclusion in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. As the MAB-ICC prepares for its 24th session, we will present other examples of successful sustainable development initiatives that are currently being tested and implemented in biosphere reserves. Look for them on our website!

Partners include the Ethiopian Government, in cooperation with the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), Geo Rainforest Conservation, GIZ.

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