Saturday, April 20, 2024
SocietyGuardians of the Green

Guardians of the Green

  • Saving Ethiopia’s Natural Wonders

As climate change and population growth strain the biosphere, preserving nature is becoming a lower priority for organizations and governments worldwide. Conservation efforts are dwindling, with fewer groups actively working to save wildlife and livelihoods tied to the land.

No stranger to these challenges, Ethiopia retains only a fraction of its original forest cover and biodiverse landscapes. Ethiopia ranks among the most biodiverse places on Earth, yet its forests are disappearing at an alarming rate.

A century ago, about 40 percent of the country was forested. However, deforestation accelerated throughout the 20th century, with coverage falling to just 16 percent by 1954, eight percent by 1961, four percent by 1975, and 3.2 percent by 1980.

Today, estimates indicate forests cover less than three percent of Ethiopia’s total land area.

Perhaps surprisingly, forest loss concerns foreign groups more than domestic Ethiopians. Many of the non-profit organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) dedicated to nature preservation in Ethiopia are international. While over 6,500 civil society organizations (CSOs) are officially registered in Ethiopia, most focus on human rights issues rather than conservation. 

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One foreign group making strides in protecting Ethiopia’s natural areas is the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU).

Founded in 1899 in Germany, NABU is among the world’s oldest environmental advocates. It began operating in Ethiopia in 2006 and registered officially as an international aid agency in 2009. In addition to Ethiopia, NABU works across nine African countries where it views nature as under threat.

Currently, NABU runs nature conservation projects across southern Ethiopia, including in the Kaffa, Sheka, and Bench Sheko zones. It also has a project at Yayu in West Oromia and maintains a project at Lake Tana.

Just three weeks ago, NABU launched additional initiatives in Oromia to safeguard Ethiopia’s coffee lands and diverse plant and animal species, with wide-reaching benefits for surrounding communities and the economy. To date, NABU has helped conserve over 15,000 hectares of endangered habitats and wildlife in these areas through participatory, community-focused models of forest and biosphere management.

Since establishing operations in 2006, NABU has invested EUR 12 million and deployed more than 40 staff members across Ethiopia from its headquarters in the capital city, Addis Ababa, and local offices in other project regions. In 2023, NABU Ethiopia transitioned to full independence as an Ethiopian NGO while maintaining close ties to its parent group in Germany.

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This week, NABU inaugurated its new Africa regional headquarters in Addis Ababa. The opening ceremony brought together NABU officials from Germany, climate experts from the African Union, representatives from Ethiopia’s Civil Society Authority and environmental protection agency, and academics from Addis Ababa University to discuss the growing imperative of conservation across the continent.

”Nature conservation needs time and trust,” said Jörg-Andreas Krüger, president of NABU.

The Union operates primarily on volunteer power.With over 70,000 volunteers and nearly a million members, NABU also collaborates with more than 100 networks. Membership fees account for over half its budget.

“Ethiopia is not the cause of depleted nature and climate change, but Africa is the solution and the key to the survival of the world,” said Samuel Ogallah (PhD), senior climate change advisor at the African Union. “When foreign CSOs and NGOs come to Africa, it should not be about ‘let us go and help Africa.’ Rather, it should be ‘let us partner with Africa.'”

Ogallah made these remarks at the launch of NABU’s Africa regional office in Addis Ababa. He also argued that the world will struggle to meet the 1.5-degree Celsius target set by the Paris Agreement because of reluctance to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. This target aims to limit the global temperature rise to below pre-industrial levels.

Currently, Earth is 1.36 degrees Celsius warmer than 1850–1900 averages.

In Ethiopia, properly assessing biodiversity is critical for prioritizing conservation interventions. However, until 2014, the country’s immense biodiversity remained undocumented on a professional scale. This changed with NABU’s first assessment from December 3–13, 2014, which cataloged 12 taxa for the first time.

The survey revealed high biological diversity in the Kafa Biosphere Reserve, as seen through diverse habitats and species in close proximity.

Kafa Reserve was recognized by UNESCO in 2010 as one of Ethiopia’s first biosphere reserves. During its establishment, a memorandum of understanding between NABU, Ethiopia’s then Ministry of Science and Technology, and UNESCO to establish more reserves—including the Lake Tana Biosphere Reserve. To strengthen Kafa, NABU expanded locally with large projects supported by the German government and smaller initiatives funded by foundations and individuals.

NABU aims to conserve and restore the Afromontane cloud forests and wetlands to preserve ecosystem resilience and unique biodiversity, reduce CO2 emissions, and sustain services for communities. In cooperation with locals, ecosystems are assessed, restored through participatory management, and secured for sustainable use.

Saving nature requires every stakeholder’s participation, especially from the private sector,Svane Bender, NABU’s communications head, said.

“CSOs alone cannot do it. We are contacting some private companies and industries in Ethiopia to do their part in nature conservation,” Bender said.

For Samson Biratu, director of Ethiopia’s Authority of the Civil Society Organization, the country’s regulatory environment now enables rather than hinders groups like NABU.

“The previous CSO proclamation was a bottle-neck, but amended a few years back,CSOs activities on environment conservation are reviving,” he said.

SatishkumarBelliethatham(PhD), head of NABU’s Africa regional office, hopes the supportive policy climate will bolster conservation efforts going forward.

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