“I was born in Majang zone and I have grown up here. The forest is our life. We can’t live without it. But currently the forest is in danger. Large portion of the forestland is being changed to coffee and other plantations by investors; the community is also cutting trees for coffee farming.
Because of the deforestation, our area is becoming highly vulnerable to land degradation and drought.
I was a participant when MELCA was facilitating participatory mapping and gave training in Sheka zone about a year ago. Our knowledge regarding protection of the forest and culture has shown much improvement after that. We have done multiple things after we returned to our kebele in protecting the natural biodiversity, our culture and water shades. Now we have seen positive changes in the community regarding forest conservation and coffee plantation without cutting trees. At that time we have asked MELCA-Ethiopia to do the same thing in Majang zone. Accepting our invitation the organization is now doing the same thing in our zone. I hope we will do much more in protecting our culture and nature here after.” A statement by Ato Endale Yitbarek, who was one of the participants on the mapping process of Majang zone.
It has been nine months since MELCA-Ethiopia started working in Majang zone. Before coming to Majang zone, MELCA has done Participatory 3 Dimensional Modeling (P3DM) in Sheka zone. During the mapping process of Sheka zone there were people who participated from the neighboring regions. The communities from Majang zone were among those who participated in the P3DM process in Sheka. At that time they were very much impressed by what they have seen in Sheka. On the inauguration day of the Sheka P3DM the people from Majang asked MELCA-Ethiopia to do the same thing in their zone.
Majang zone is located in the southwest Ethiopia in Gambela National Regional State. Dense indigenous forest trees cover the largest area of Majang zone. There are more than 257 types of indigenous trees in the forest. The forest is source of food, means of income, and shelter for the community; in general, the people are highly dependent for living on the forest. Currently the forest is getting highly vulnerable to deforestation because of tea and coffee farming investments, saw mills and increasing number of population in the area.
MELCA-Ethiopia started working with the local government bodies and the communities in Majang zone with the aim of alleviating these problems and conserving the forest and culture of the community. One of the approaches MELCA employs to mobilize the community is the use of participatory mappings. These are sketch maps, eco calendars, eco-maps and participatory 3 dimensional maps. Among the four forms of participatory mappings, MELCA has facilitated P3DM in Majang zone toward end of August 2014.
This participatory mapping is a method in which the community members of different age groups come together in order to participate and contribute their part in building the model of their own landscape. When this mapping process was started, the youth built the model by using cardboards and other different materials. They were excited as the model started to develop and take the shape of different landscapes in their areas. It has taken four days to finish the process of building the model and proceed to the next step.
Banchiayhu Tufa is the one of the students who participated in the process of building the model. She is also a member in segni club in her school. She is 8th grade student. Reflecting on the process, she said, “When we started the model on the first day, I was not that much excited; but now after it is completed, I could see all the forest land, coffee land, the rivers and lakes. It makes me proud that we could do this kind of big project.”
The next step is populating the model by the various natural and cultural resources found in the zone. This is a stage on which elders from all the woredas and kebeles in the zone actively participate.
For this purpose, first, the elders developed their own legend in order to represent rivers, forest areas, farmlands, mountains, churches and sacred places and others by using different colors. Then they were actively engaged in representing the natural and cultural resources in their respective areas by drawing lines and polygons as well as using pins of different colors according to the legend they developed. While engaged in the process the elders discussed about the changes that happened in their areas as compared to the past and the causes for these changes. As the mapping process engages both youth and elders, it created conducive environment for the transfer of knowledge from the elders to the youth.
After the model was completed, the community in Majang zone was very much impressed by what they have done. It has created a sense of ownership, unity and responsibility among them. They were able to focus on their major problem, to identify what they have lost as a result of the deforestation and land degradation.
AtoTsegaye Geleto was one of the participants on the participatory 3d modeling. He is a chairman in Kabo kebele in Godere woreda of Majang zone.
AtoTsegaye compares the present condition of the area with the past by saying, “Before 10 to 15 years our area was covered with variety of indigenous trees and it was very dense. We used to get honey from the forest. There were different kinds of animals in the forest like Bushbuck, pig and Buffalo that we used to hunt for meat. But now we could not even see one of them except colobus monkey (black and white).
We had training for three days in Sheka zone Masha woreda on forest conservation and land use management. We have also participated on the P3DM in Sheka zone Yeki woreda. In the first day of the modeling process, we did not have any idea about what we were going to do. We were thinking that they do not know our area. But after the organizers from MELCA explained about the purpose of the mapping process and while we were doing it we come to understand that it was being done for our own benefit. So we were very happy.”
The other participant is Alazar Tehu. She is a female farmer from Godere woreda, Dunchay kebele. The area she came from is different from the others. She expressed her idea saying, “In our kebele the forest is very dense. No one is allowed to cut trees. We grow maize and sorghum outside the dense forest. We do not sell our land for others. There are many animals and plants in the forest. As I have seen during the mapping process and the discussion with people from the other areas of the Majang zone, I realized that their forest is in danger because of deforestation. I have got a good lesson that we have to keep our forest more than it was before in order to transfer it for the coming generation like our grandparents have kept it for us.”
Majang zone administrator AtoTensael Ranjan also said, on the occasion of inauguration of the model, “…as our grandparents have given this land for us with full of treasures, we have responsibility to keep and transfer it to our children. Now more than anytime the peoples at the administrative levels are ready to stop this problem and to take measures on the people who are irresponsible and who causes trouble on us. We are very much happy by what MELCA-Ethiopia has done in our zone; we would like to ask MELCA-Ethiopia to stand beside us till the end.”
Speaking on the occasion director of MELCA-Ethiopia, Dr Millon Belay, said, “I would like to thank all of you who have participated in the construction of this model. As we have seen the Majang zone is rich in its biodiversity and culture. But currently this place is in danger because of many factors. We are here to work with you to stop the danger. We have planned to register the Majang forest as a biosphere reserve. We want to connect the elders and youth to ensure transfer of traditional ecological knowledge and culture from elders to the youth. We also have a plan to collect indigenous seedlings and preserve them. We will build a community seed bank here. We will work together on how to increase the productivity of organic farm products in Majang.”
Developing the P3DM has taken 11 days. A total of 176 community members including the youth have participated on the process. The completed model was inaugurated on the 11th day of the mapping process. Communities from different areas of Majang zone and neighboring region have attended inauguration of the model. They have promised to work with MELCA and the zonal and regional administrators to preserve and safeguard their nature and culture.
After the inauguration, the model was handed over to Majang zone administrator Ato Tinsael Rajan on behalf of the Majang people.