Participatory Forest Management for Improving Water Security and Livelihoods in Ethiopia
This post is written by Yonas Tafesse and Girma Ayele, IWMI-Ethiopia.
Forests play a crucial role in the hydrological cycle — they influence water availability, maintain high water quality and regulate surface and groundwater flows. Forest landscape restoration could be instrumental in significantly improving water availability and reducing poverty in water-stressed rural areas.
Due to its high availability of water resources, the Central Rift Valley of Ethiopia attracts considerable investment in irrigated agriculture. Alongside these investment opportunities, the growing population has spurred the expansion of agricultural land and encroachment into forest areas. This causes declining ecosystem service values — the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems to human well-being and subsistence — due to the loss of fauna and flora. Specifically, falling lake levels, due to sedimentation and over-extraction of water, have resulted in declining ecosystem service values in the Central Rift Valley, especially of water.
The G4F Initiative: The Solution to the Problem
Recognizing the challenges of ecosystem service value losses, a consortium of five non-governmental organizations initiated a project called Growth for the Future (G4F). The project was formed in 2017 with the financial support of the Swedish International Development Agency.
The five implementing partners include Farm Africa (lead), SOS Sahel Ethiopia, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the Population Health and Environment Ethiopia Consortium, and Sustainable Environment and Development Action. These implementing partners identified Participatory Forest Management (PFM) as one of the essential interventions to reduce the threat to water security and livelihood sustenance.
G4F project swiftly collaborated with local stakeholders to enable 1,883 smallholder farmers (1,525 men and 125 women) and trained them on optimized tree planting, soil health improvement, and drought-resistant crop farming techniques for one month. Next, the participating farmers were organized into two forest conservation cooperatives — Galo Raphe and Ashoka.
“The project provided training, livelihood support, a supply of construction materials to construct the PFM offices, and improved cook stoves, beehives, and goats to improve the livelihoods of members of the cooperatives,” stated Demelash Tesfaye, Project Coordinator with Farm Africa.
The farmers were happy with the concepts of PFM, ecosystem conservation, and efficient use of water resources and the results have been impressive. Over three years, farmers have planted 1,105,370 trees and fruit seedlings in the most degraded parts of the Central Rift Valley.
According to Demelash, the farmers can restore and preserve 11,504 hectares of forest land in the Central Rift Valley districts of Adami Tulu, Jido Kombolcha and Negele Arsi areas. “The success is already reflected in forest regeneration,” he added.
Sustaining Forests: The Perfect Water Machines
The achievements of the Galo Raphe Forest Conservation Cooperative are exemplary in this regard. The cooperative has been instrumental in significantly reducing the flow of sedimentation load to Lake Ziway — the lifeline of many smallholder farmers — through its intensive interventions of rehabilitating and conserving the degraded landscape of the area.
Feyiso Humbi, Deputy Chairperson of the Cooperative, reported, “The natural vegetation has regenerated, and the wildlife has also returned to their habitat after four years of hard work.” And the value of a well-conserved forest is not just about wildlife; it is also an income-generating opportunity. Cooperative members earn income by selling grasses through a cut-and-carry system and collecting fallen wood from the forest.
“Forests are water machines,” said Dr. Amare Haileselassie, Principal Researcher at IWMI. “It tarps it, reduces runoff, recycles it back to the atmosphere, and releases water slowly to sustain flow during dry months, thus building resilience to climate-related shocks. It is very important to understand that biodiversity conservation is a fundamental component of healthy food production as it helps to regulate soils and plants that attract pollinators while purifying water and performing other vital ecosystem services.”
“PFM implementation in the Central Rift Valley has contributed to the dual development goals of the government of Ethiopia. Primarily, it ensures biodiversity conservation which contributes to Ethiopia’s commitment to the Global Convention for biodiversity conservation,” states Misganaw Asnake, Program Coordinator with Farm Africa. “The PFM activity helps to mitigate the impacts of climate change by reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.”