A movement to get the Sheka Forest registered, by UNESCO, as one of the world’s biosphere reserves has been officially declared by concerned governmental and non-governmental organs operating in the zone through a series of discussions held, from 14-21, March 2011, at Masha Town of Sheka Zone.The Sheka Forest is one of the few forests in Ethiopia that is rich in biodiversity and has an irreplaceable value in terms of providing a healthy ecosystem for the entire area. Besides being the primary source of livelihood and a symbol of cultural identity for the community of Sheka, it serves as a guardian of the ecosystem balance for the region by protecting the soil and by being the origin of many cross boundary rivers in the area. It is also one of the areas that serve as a carbon sink for mitigation of the global climate change. Hence the move to protect the forest, which is of great
economic and cultural significance, has been kicked off.
While the initiative to get the forest registered as biosphere reserve came from the community of Sheka and concerned Sheka zone government officials, MELCA, which is working with the community of Sheka on community based bio-cultural conservation, has taken the role of facilitating the process for the biosphere reserve application, based on the demand from the community and local government officials.
So far the UNESCO has registered two forest areas, namely the Yayu forest in Elubabor Zone of Oromia region and the Kefa forest in the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR), which are both adjacent to the Sheka forest, as the world’s biosphere reserve areas. Inspired by these initiatives, the community and the government of Sheka wanted to get a movement for the registration of their forest started. As such they gave the role of facilitating the movement to MELCA.
Accordingly MELCA has kicked off its role of facilitation by organizing a package of discussions with the various relevant organs in the zone as a commencement of the process to the registration. As such, a series of consultative workshops were held, from 14-21, March 2011, with Sheka Zone and Masha Woreda government officials and representatives of relevant Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), representatives of Masha Woreda community, clan leaders in Masha and Anderacha woredas as well as MELCA staff at Sheka branch office together with technical staff selected from relevant government offices at zonal and woreda levels.
The main objectives of the series of consultative workshops held with the various organs are to officially launch the process of application for the registration of Sheka Forest as one of the world’s biosphere areas and let the community and government of Sheka officially declare their interest in the registration of the forest as a biosphere reserve.
The discussion held with zonal and woreda level government officials and representatives of relevant CSOs focused on having a common understanding of the idea of biosphere reserve and its significance for Sheka as well as the role expected of each relevant organ in the process of application for the registration. Steering committees that work in collaboration with MELCA have been formed both at zonal and woreda levels.
A Similar discussion was also held with the representatives of Masha Woreda community and clan leaders of Masha and Anderacha woredas.
A total of 115 government officials at zonal and woreda level, representatives of relevant CSOs, and representatives of Masha woreda community, and clan leaders of the two woredas have participated on the consultative workshops.
The workshop organized for MELCA staff in Sheka and experts selected from relevant government offices was also intended to equip them with the basic concept of biosphere reserve and what they are supposed to do with the community to facilitate the process.
At the end of the series of discussion sessions representatives of zonal and woreda level government offices, CSOs, community of Masha and clan leaders of the two woredas have forwarded their petition for the registration to UNESCO office in Addis Ababa.
MELCA is undertaking facilitation of the process by the financial support it obtained from Norwegian Peoples Aid-Ethiopia and a technical support from Environmental Coffee Forum.