Located in the Oromia National Regional State, the Bale Eco-region is a colourful area of major ecological significance. The area is part of the 35 globally identified biodiversity hotspots and comprises of diverse ecosystems and forest types. According to the Bale Mountains National Park, the Afro-alpine area is home to half of the population of the Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis), dubbed as the most threatened canid in the world, while the northern juniper-hagenia woodlands host the largest population of the similarly endemic and endangered mountain nyala (Tragelaphus buxtoni). Moreover, the area hosts 26 per cent of Ethiopia’s endemic species including 6 of the 18 birds endemic to Ethiopia and 11 of the 14 birds endemic to Ethiopia and Eritrea. Numerous rare and endemic amphibian species and over 1,300 species of flowering plants, out of which 163 are endemic to Ethiopia and 23 to Bale alone, can be found in the area.
Anthropogenic deforestation is one of the major environmental challenges that threatens the Bale Eco-region. According to a recent report by Farm Africa, the average deforestation rates between 2000 and 2011, assessed using multitemporal satellite images, were 1.1 per cent for the moist tropical forest stratum and 6.7 per cent for the dry forest stratum. The report identified smallholder farmers as primary agents of deforestation through the expansion of farmlands into forestlands, the unsustainable collection of fuel and construction wood, and the intermittent incidence of forest fires.
Cognizant of this reality, the Bale Eco-region REDD+ Pilot Project aims to address the challenge of deforestation and its drivers through a holistic and sustainable approach. The overarching objectives of the project are: strengthening sustainable forest management practices by working with community-based organizations (CBOs) and government institutions; enhancing the motivation and participation of communities in forest management and REDD+; reducing the expectation of CBOs for external subsidy by generating alternative incentives; and ensuring the sustainability of the project by a smooth integration into the Oromia Forested Landscape Programme (OFLP).
During the three-day visit, the delegation from the Royal Norwegian Embassy, in the company of representatives of Farm Africa and SOS Sahel – Ethiopia, conducted various meetings with project stakeholders and visited important project sites. The first day of the visit was kicked off with a meeting in Goba Town. The participants of the meeting included representatives of Mada Walabu University, Oromia Forests and Wildlife Enterprise (OFWE), Oromia Environment, Forest and Climate Change Authority (OEFCCA), Oromia Cooperative Promotion Agency and others. The meeting programme included presentations by Farm Africa and Mada Walabu University, and an in-depth discussion on the project progress, challenges, and related issues.
The second day of the visit commenced with a meeting with project stakeholders in Magnate, which was followed by a visit to households. The households visited had received subsidized fuel-efficient stoves through the project. The intention is to reduce fuelwood consumption and the necessity to cut down trees for this purpose. Fuel-efficient stoves are also ideal for reducing indoor air pollution and thereby help to create healthier households. A woman interviewed during a household visit attested to the benefit that she and her family have gained from their fuel-efficient stove in terms of reduced household air pollution.
Keeping up the pace with previous days, the third day of the visit started with a visit to the Birbirsa Lelisa Tree Seedlings Nursery Site in Deneba, which is supported by the project. This was followed by a meeting with project stakeholders in Deneba and a visit to one of the households where a biogas digester was installed through support from the project. Biogas digesters are alternative and sustainable sources of energy and by supporting their use, the project aims to reduce fuelwood consumption and accompanying pressure on the natural forests.
While there is still some way to go until the end of the project to conclusively determine how well the set forth objectives have been met, the positive feedback from stakeholders and the results attained so far does, nonetheless, make the Bale Eco-region REDD+ Pilot Project one of the most interesting REDD+ projects to look out for.