Measures for the conservation of native tree species of the Ethiopian Highlands: Linking genetic conservation to re-establishment of species diverse forests.
Climate change, rural poverty and global food and nutrition insecurity are the three urgent and intertwined problems facing the global community. Climate change is a global phenomenon with severe negative impacts in developing countries. Ethiopia, like the other developing countries, is facing serious challenges in management of natural resources. Some of the profound challenges in management of natural resources are deforestation and degradation of forests, woodlands, and agricultural lands. Those significant problems have a negative impact on the overall landscape productivity. Forests in Ethiopia are key in supporting the livelihood of all Ethiopians by providing most of the energy consumed by the majority of the population, protecting soil erosion, conservation of water in watersheds and supplying other goods and ecological services in the entire landscape.
To reverse the decline in tree cover, Ethiopia has embarked on one of the globally most ambitious programmes of forest landscape restoration (FLR). In 2018 Ethiopia has committed to restore about 22 million ha of degraded forest landscapes within 20 years (15 million ha were committed by the Ethiopian government under the Bonn Challenge and AFR100; an additional 7 million ha were committed under the New York Declaration on Forests). If the commitment turns in to effect the forest coverage of the country will leap to 20 percent by 2030 from its three percent status it was in two decades ago.
This project will focus on conservation and management of native tree species to restore the Ethiopian Highlands. The native tree species provide numerous economic, social, and ecological services in the country. The native trees play a great role in provisioning numerous ecosystem services and Climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The commitment and efforts to support the forestry sector by the government of Ethiopia is increasing over time. Several measures were taken to strengthen the forestry sector of Ethiopia, such as the launch of Ethiopian Forestry Development (EFD) and formation of new initiatives such as the “Green legacy” (https://www.pmo.gov.et/greenlegacy/) will have a significant effect in restoring and conserving the forest resource. The “Green legacy Initiative (GLI)” actively promotes the re-afforestation and forest landscape restoration activities.
Challenges in conservation and forest restoration
Deforestation and forest degradation are major threats to forest ecosystem biodiversity and ecosystem services in Ethiopia. Remnant forests in the Ethiopian highlands have high species diversity but have a low evenness, with a low number of dominant species and a high number of less abundant species. Often little to nothing is known about the cultivation of these species. The species Juniperus procera, Prunus africana, Podocarpus gracilior, Albizia gummifera, Olea africana, Cordia africana, Millettia ferruginea occur often in the forest remnants, but even these species are very much reduced in population size and limited through fragmentation. These species are categorized as vulnerable or least concern under the IUCN Red List, for instance, Juniperus procera (least concern), Prunus africana (vulnerable and threatened), Podocarpus gracilior (least concern), Albizia gummifera (least concern), Olea europaea subsp. cuspidata (least concern), Cordia africana (least concern) and Millettia ferruginea (least concern). The extreme reduction of their coverage in the country mainly associated with anthropogenic factors such as: intensive utilization of the forest, intensive timber harvests and grazing by livestock, and additional factors, for instance, low germination rate, long generation time, susceptibility to insect attack, heart rot and fire.
Although the commitment and efforts to support the forestry sector by the government of Ethiopia has been increasing over time the implementation of the reforestation and forest landscape restoration activities still needs to be improved. Therefore, to overcome these negative impacts effective biodiversity conservation activities should be implemented.
Coordinating institution and partners
The project idea was initiated by the Austrian Federal Research Centre for Forests (BFW), department of Forest Biodiversity and University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), Institute of Forest Ecology. The project builds on the previous projects CARBOPART 2 and JUPRET. The High Five project is led by BOKU Institute of Forest Ecology, and the BFW department of Forest Biodiversity. In Ethiopia, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)/PATSPO, Ethiopian Forestry Development (EFD) and Bahir Dar University (BDU) College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences are the project partners. The project “High Five- Measures for the conservation of native tree species of the Ethiopian Highlands: Linking genetic conservation to re-establishment of species diverse forests” is financed by the Austrian Ministry of Climate action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology. The “Provision of Adequate Tree Seed Portfolios” (PATSPO) is a larger programme which is implemented by ICRAF and EFD. The project duration is three years (April 2023 – March 2026).
The goal of HIGH FIVE is development of tree species diverse forests which mirror natural highland forests. Ecological stable forests make a direct contribution to long-term climate mitigation through draw-down of atmospheric carbon dioxide and subsequent carbon sequestration.
The overall aim of HIGH FIVE project is to increase the success of forest landscape restorations in the Ethiopian Highlands, through provision of planting material, and development of approaches to develop tree species rich ecological stable forests, particularly on sites of cleared non-native forests.
The specific objectives of the project are:
- To investigate growth of target species in the tree species diverse stands across climatic gradients of precipitation and nutrient status in the Ethiopian highlands
- To investigate the nutrient-growth interactions, and effect of fertilization of the target species in the mixed tree species plots
- To determine the root morphology of the target species and modeling of their nutrient acquisition
- To assess the growth of seedlings in the already established seedling seed orchards
- To assess success of seedling production from Juniperus procera cuttings and then establishing a small pilot plantation
- To develop a working manual for seedling seed orchard of the target species and propagation of Juniperus procera by cuttings
- To develop low cost seedling protection systems
- To build capacity of nursery technicians and model farmers
HIGH FIVE project and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
The relevance of this project towards the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is also very significant. HIGH FIVE will contribute towards the implementation of the SDGs; poverty reduction (SDG 1), zero hunger (SDG 2), climate action (SDG 13) and sustainable life on land (SDG 15), quality education (SDG 4) as well as partnerships for the goals (SDG17). The potential of afforestation, forest landscape restoration and other tree-based systems to contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) is promising. At the macro level, sustainably managed trees and forests, including their production systems, are key sectors for greening economies and efficiently transitioning to a service-based economy. Smallholder tree-farming systems could be one component of a general poverty alleviation strategy for poor rural communities. The multi-functionality of forests provides a significant contribution to smallholders’ livelihoods in many ways, both financially and non-financially, through increased food security, access to land security and ecosystem services provision for public goods.
The planned activities of HIGH FIVE are in line with the commitments set by the government of Ethiopia to restore a significant quantity of forest land. Therefore, HIGH FIVE directly contributes to the national goal of protecting the existing forests and new afforestation practices for their economic and ecosystem services, including (carbon stocks, biodiversity conservation, soil improvement, soil and water conservation etc). The capacity building will also fill the knowledge gaps on the production and provision of reproductive material for native tree species. The availability of skilled manpower on the subject will have a significant contribution for the effective implementation of Forest Landscape Restoration programs.
The outcome of this project will equip policy makers with arguments and guidance on ways of improving the survival of trees after planting and consequently increasing the overall success of forest landscape restorations in the country.
University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), Institute of Forest Ecology
Federal Research and Training Centre for Forests, Natural Hazards and Landscape (BFW), Department of Forest Biodiversity
Ethiopian Forestry Development (EFD)
World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF-PATSPO) Bahir Dar University (BDU), College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences