Rebuilding Lives and Livelihoods through Forests

May 6, 2024

Alemayehu Toga remembers the years when frequent flooding in the area meant that his community in Mirab Abaya area in the south of Ethiopia were often displaced from their land. This meant that a sustainable livelihood was out of the question as the already vulnerable community was forced to sell off their livestock and assets during disasters and try to rebuild again and again. 

Through the Sweden-supported forest programme engaging with communities, 560 hectare of land was restored through assisted natural reforestation. A banana plantation was also established on 300 hectares. 

These activities helped to tackle flooding in the area and at the same time created livelihoods. Alemayehu no longer lives in fear of the damages wreaked by flooding in the area. He is also one of 1,520 people directly benefiting from the banana plantation and he is using the income to send his children to school. 

Photo: Yohannes Balcha/UNDP

Mamitu Mekelew is a young woman who works in the greenhouse taking care of seedlings.  She also recalls the days when the displaced community would camp out waiting for the floods to subside. Mamitu is  now happy at the jobs created for the young people in the community and speaks of how she and her peers feel stable enough to now plan on building their assets.

According to Kibruyisfa Sisay (Phd) who is the national coordinator for the Forest Sector Development Programme, the average annual income generated from banana plantation is around 180 million ETB, with markets now accessed by the community's cooperatives in major towns of the country. 

Photo: Yohannes Balcha/UNDP

Income is also generated from honey, with the Tailo Honey and Products Cooperation earning 400,000 ETB last year. The cooperative has started selling their honey products to the nearest Arba Minch town as well as the capital Addis Ababa.

Photo: Yohannes Balcha/UNDP

In April 2024, the area was visited by staff from the Swedish international Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and UNDP's Nature Hub

Maria Vink, Programme Specialist for SIDA, noted that she found it very encouraging to see how restoration has led to sustainable livelihoods for the communities, benefiting both people and the planet. 

Tim Scot, Senior Policy Advisor at UNDP's Nature Hub, agrees with this observation, reflecting on the empowered role of communities to promote change in a sustainable manner. He also stressed that both SIDA and UNDP shared the same vision for promoting sustainable development, eradicating poverty, reducing inequalities, and advancing inclusive green growth. 

The field visit was organised within the context of a SIDA pilot project (2021-2024) on environment and climate change. The project helped build the capacity of UNDP's country office with a focus on integrated portfolio management, gender and women's empowerment, knowledge management and social and environmental safeguards (SES). Through this support UNDP has undertaken assessments and developed action plans across the focus areas. The office has also invested in increased manpower, for example putting in place a dedicated SES staff to enhance compliance across projects. 41 projects have been SES risk mapped so far, training provided to partners and staff, and the office has introduced a stakeholder response mechanism. 


Partnership to develop the forest sector

Ethiopia's forests play a crucial role in supporting various sectors of the economy and have the potential to contribute significantly to the country's social and economic development through various environmental, ecological, economic, and social services. Besides providing diverse wood and non-wood products, Ethiopia's forested landscapes offer a wide range of environmental benefits, including watershed protection, energy and soil protection, biodiversity conservation, and ecotourism potential, all of which contribute significantly to the country's overall health and wealth. However, the primary challenge facing the forestry sector in Ethiopia is the high rate of deforestation and forest degradation. 

To address this challenge, a focus is being made on forest restoration, increase landscape productivity, and development and promotion of forest enterprises while generating income. Additionally, to achieve the goal of increasing forest cover from the current 15.5% to 30% by 2030, there was a need to expand technical capacities beyond the existing capacities to support innovation and stronger engagement with private sector and civil society partners. This will create more sustainable and cost-effective forest sector development models that will benefit the people and the country. 

Over the years Ethiopia has implemented policies and strategies that recognize the crucial role that forests play in promoting environmental resilience and sustainable socio-economic development. These include the Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) strategy, the National Forest Sector Development Programme (NFSDP), the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), the REDD+ strategy, and the Ten-Year Forest Sector Development Programme.

These strategies prioritize the need to reduce and eliminate deforestation and forest degradation in Ethiopia while simultaneously increasing forest cover through afforestation, reforestation, and forest landscape restoration. The private sector is also encouraged to actively participate in these efforts.

To support Ethiopia's forestry projects, the Government of Ethiopia and development partners such as the Government of Sweden have been actively involved in the Institutional Strengthening Forest Sector Development Project (ISFSDP Phase I, 2015-2022) and the Catalyzing Forest Sector Development Programme (CFSDP Phase II, 2019-2022). The objective of these programs is to promote sustainable and competitive tree-based production systems in both rural and urban areas in Ethiopia, ultimately contributing to improved community and ecosystem resilience, including the reduction of recurrent floods. 


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