The road to Masha, the town of Sheka Zone in the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR), has been busy for a couple of days during the end of January 2013. Many people from Addis Ababa, Hawassa, the capital of SNNPR, and zones neighboring with Sheka were traveling to the small town of Sheka Zone to attend an occasion to be celebrated on the 28th of January 2013.
Several guests have swarmed Masha town especially on the 27th and 28th of January 2013. Residents of the town were on the roads with smiling faces to welcome their gusts and make the occasion as colorful as possible. The occasion was inauguration of the Sheka Forest Biosphere Reserve.
Sheka can be referred to as the conservatory of the indigenous culture and nature in Ethiopia. It is found in the Southwestern part of the country SNNPR. It is a place where one can find people living in perfect harmony with nature.
The people of Sheka have a traditional system of conserving and using their forest and the entire environment. Kobo, for instance, is a traditional forest governance system whereby members of the local community apportion the forest among themselves and manage. A member who has got a portion of the forest is responsible for managing and conserving the forest in accordance with set customary rules and regulations. The core of the rules and regulations is that a holder of a portion of the forest should conserve the natural forest by getting mainly non-timber forest products like honey and spices from his part of the forest.
The other cultural value that shows harmony between people and nature in Sheka is the spiritual ties that exist between the two. The people have traditional believes such as Gudo, Dedo and Basho that designate parts of the forest as a sacred natural place. The sacred natural places are mostly places around big trees, big rocks, caves, wetlands and rivers. In Shekacho culture, sacred natural places are protected from human interference except for ritual purposes.
Elders in Sheka are rich in traditional ecological knowledge of the interrelationship between and among the forest, wetlands and rivers. They say one can hardly exist without the other. So keeping one for the other and all together is an important aspect of the traditional conservation system.
These combined with many other cultural values have enabled the people in Sheka to conserve their forest and keep it for the current and coming generation.
The Sheka forest constitutes one of the few remaining afromontane forest vegetation in Ethiopia. It is rich in both plant and animal species. There are over 300 higher plants, 50 mammals, 200 birds, and 20 amphibian species, occurring in all habitats. Out of these, at least 55 plants, and 10 birds are endemic to Ethiopia. There are also over 38 threatened species (IUCN Red list) in the area, which include 5 bird, 3 mammals and 30 plant species. It is an important gene pool for Ensete (sometines called ‘false banana’), Arabica coffee and other plant species important as food, agricultural and forestry purposes.
As these cultural values are being eroded for various reasons and demand for agricultural land is increasing, the best strategy to conserve the forest is believed to be to get it adopted by UNESCO as a biosphere Reserve. Accordingly, MELCA-Ethiopia, which has been working with the government and community of Sheka zone for the last seven years, facilitated adoption of the forest as a Biosphere Reserve based on the request by the community and zonal administration.
So, Sheka forest has been adopted by the Man and Biosphere (MAB) committee of United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as one of the world’s Biosphere Reserves in July 2012. Adoption of the forest as a Biosphere Reserve has been magnificently inaugurated in Masha Town of Sheka Zone on the 28th of January 2013.
Adoption of the forest as a biosphere reserve will help to minimize pressure on the forest as a result of erosion of culture and traditional beliefs as a result of modernization, agricultural expansion and push for large-scale agricultural investments. In other words, it helps conservation of the natural forest in a more structured and coordinated manner.
Ato Befekadu Dilo, administrator of Sheka Zone, who made a welcome speech on the occasion, said the purpose of the inauguration ceremony is to:
– Express our happiness for adoption of the forest as one of the world’s biosphere reserves,
– Promote the value of conservation of the forest for protection of important cultural values, impacts of climate change and support for climate change resilient green economy and its use as a source of genes.
– Promote organic products such as coffee, honey and spices to the national and international markets so as to maximize the benefits to be gained from the forest by the local community.
– Call up on all stakeholders to contribute their part for development of a management plan that will be used for effective implementation of the regulation for Sheka Forest Biosphere Reserve and
– Call up on investors already working in the zone and others interested in coming to the zone to implement their projects in a manner that goes in line with the rules and principles of the biosphere reserve.
President of the SNNP region Ato Shiferaw Shigute as well as representative of the president of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Ato Girma W/Giorgis, who made a speech on the occasion, expressed, in similar words, their great appreciation for the people of Sheka who managed to conserve the forest through their constructive natural resource management and utilization culture and customary practices. The regional and the national presidents have also expressed their gratefulness to all parties, including MELCA-Ethiopia, who made technical and financial support to get the forest adopted by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve.
Traditional songs and dances, hymns and poems presented by SEGNI club members and local community members have adorned the inauguration occasion.
SEGNI club members from different schools in Masha woreda have also celebrated eve of the inauguration day in the compound of Masha Secondary School. On this occasion the students have showcased traditional songs, dances and poems relating to the culture and biodiversity of Sheka Zone. The students have also displayed various traditional artifacts and seed arts they have collected and done in their respective clubs. Students from the different schools and residents of Masha Town have attended the occasion organized by SEGNI club members.
More than 3000 people including president of SSNPR Ato Shiferaw Shigute, representative of the FDRE president Ato Asefa Kesito, State minister of the Ministry of Science and Technology Ato Mohammud Ahmed Gaaz, representatives of concerned line ministries, representatives of various NGOs working on environment and biodiversity, journalists of various federal and regional medias and the local community have participated on the Sheka Biosphere Reserve Inauguration event.