Sustainable Forestry for Water Security and Livelihood Sustenance
Forests play a crucial role in the hydrological cycle, influence the amount of water available, regulate surface and ground-water flows and maintain high-quality water. Forest landscape restoration could be instrumental in significantly improving water availability and reducing poverty in water-stressed rural areas of the developing world.
Convinced by this fact, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Farm Africa and other stakeholders have partnered with the Ethiopian Government during 2017 in order to redress the appalling natural resources degradation as well as water and food insecurity challenges in the Central Rift-Valley (CRV) area of Ethiopia.
The CRV has been well known for attracting considerable investments in irrigated commercial agriculture because of the availability of water resources in the area. This has been happening at the expense of damaging the natural ecosystem. Hence, the area lost its fauna and flora due to large-scale deforestation, thereby further contributing to falling lake levels and shrinking lake volumes due to sedimentation and over-abstraction, as is evidenced by a recent IWMI report.
G4F Initiative: The Solution to the Problem
As the saying goes, “if there is a will, there is a way.” The problem required discussion and dialog among IWMI, Farm Africa and Ethiopian regional government’s senior development specialists and decision-makers to identify and implement best-fit and proactive approaches for restoring, conserving and sustainably using the biodiversity of the area.
The Growth for the Future (G4F) project was therefore introduced in 2017 with the objective of supporting rural economic development, resilience building and biodiversity conservation in the CRV, thanks to the generous financial support from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).
Pressed by challenges of the area, IWMI, Farm Africa and regional government extension services swiftly collaborated to capacitate 1,883 smallholder farmers (548 males and 125 females) on optimized tree planting, soil health improvement and drought-resistant crop farming techniques for a period of one month.
Training results were amazing! Farmers were very much thrilled by the concepts of participatory forest management, ecosystem conservation and efficient use of water resources. Motivated by commitment of the farmers, IWMI, Farm Africa and the regional government agricultural office decided to organize the 1,883 devoted farmers into two forest conservation cooperatives; namely, Galo Raphe and Ashoka.
Additional support was also provided to the farmers in the form of livelihood improvement schemes, such as tree and fruit seedlings, improved cook stoves, beehives and goats. This further heightened their devotion and helped them to embark on the long journey of preserving their natural environment and realizing their food security through the Participatory Forest Management Scheme.
Sustainable Forestry for Thriving Water and Food Security
The farmers have planted 1,105,370 trees and fruit seedlings in the most degraded parts of the CRV over a period of three years. The result is intriguing to many people!
According to Mr. Misganaw Asnake, Project Coordinator with Farm Africa, the farmers are able to restore and preserve 11,504 hectares of forest land in the Adami Tulu Jido Kombolcha and Negele Arsi districts of the Oromia Region of Ethiopia.
Achievements of the Galo Raphe Forest Conservation Cooperative are exemplary in this regard. The cooperative is highly 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.
Mr. Feyiso Humbi, Deputy Chairperson of the Cooperative, said: “The natural vegetation has regenerated and the wildlife has also returned to their habitat. These are realized after three years of hard work.”
The values of the well-conserved forest are not just these. The forest is also serving as an income-generating opportunity. Cooperative members are earning a good deal of money from the sale of grasses through a cut-and-carry system by tirelessly collecting fallen wood from the forest.
Dr. Amare Haileselassie, Principal Researcher with IWMI, said: “Farmers are also reporting that their farming activities have become resilient to climate change as a result of their engagement on sustainable forest management practices.” He added that prevention of soil erosion, improvement of water absorption and increase of agricultural productivity are also the other astounding outcomes of the intervention.
It is very important to understand that biodiversity conservation is a fundamental component for healthy food production as it helps to regulate soils and plants that attract pollinators while purifying water and performing other vital ecosystem services.