UNESCO Kafa Biosphere Reserve: Saving the Last Wild Coffee Forests

Kafa Biosphere Reserve in Ethiopia is the birthplace of wild Arabic coffee and contains close to 5 000 wild varieties of the plant in this biodiversity hotspot.

Forty years ago, forest covered some 40 percent of the Ethiopian land surface. Today, less than 3 percent remains, most of which is located in the biosphere reserve and includes large areas of mountainous afromontane cloud forest. The forest ecosystem is highly important to the livelihoods of people in the area, providing wild coffee, valuable spices and honey from wild bees. It also contains some 25 million tonnes 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.

Projects are addressing 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.

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