Southwestern part of Ethiopia is known by its dense natural forest. Sheka zone is one of the areas in southwest part of Ethiopia that is rich in its biodiversity. The culture and way of living of the community has played a great role in conserving the natural environment.
One of such cultures is a forestland holding system called “Kobo”. Kobo is a traditional governance system of Sheka community that has been transferred from generation to generation and existing till now. In this system, a community member gets the right to hold a portion of forestland for conservation. Some of the activities the holder is allowed to do are hanging honey hives, hunting wild animals, collecting spice and wild coffee.
Kobo is usually found relatively far from people’s settlements. It is given based on the rights and obligations of the individual who inherited the forestland from his ancestors. The holder of the forest who is allotted or has inherited a block is responsible for its management through traditionally known use and conservation rights.
MELCA-Ethiopia has been working in Sheka zone since 2005. During these years, the organization has played a major role in conserving Sheka forest by implementing different programs and supporting the local community, including adoption of Sheka forest as biosphere reserve.
Sheka forest was registered by UNISCO as a biosphere reserve in July 11, 2012. Sheka forest biosphere reserve covers a total area of 238,750 hectares of forest, bamboo thickets, wetlands, agricultural land, rural settlements and towns.
Sheka forest biosphere reserve has now a legal protection by a conservation regulation issued by SNNPR.
Trained rangers are in action to protect the forest from any illegal act prohibited by the regulation. The rangers are responsible for informing the kebele and woreda biosphere focal persons if anyone breaks the law and make illegal acts in the forest. If the case is beyond the capacity of kebele, the woreda agricultural development office will be informed to take action.
Ato Endeshaw Shodeno is one of rangers in Depicheni gawa Kebele in Yeki woreda. He expressed what he is doing in his kelebe as follows; “There was a persistent discussion, awareness creation trainings and workshops that was conducted in our kebele. The local community was the main actor when Sheka forest biosphere reserve was demarcated. Then the community chose us to represent them and safeguard the forest.
MELCA has equipped us with cell phones and air time every month. Therefore, we inform our kebele whenever there is an illegal activity in the forest. We also make awareness raising discussions whenever there is a meeting in our kebele.”
Ato Ayele Gelacho is the focal person of biosphere reserve management in the agricultural development office in Andracha woreda. He expressed about the conservation of the Sheka forest biosphere reserve as follows; “Previously the forest was very vulnerable for destruction. No one was prohibited to cut trees.
As a result of this individuals were cutting trees as a means of income and for home consumption purpose. But now after it is legally registered as a biosphere reserve, these kinds of activities are prohibited except non-timber forest products such as bee keeping, spice collection and the like. In order to strengthen the conservation of the forest, we are closely working with clan leaders and rangers.”
People around the forest are primarily dependent on forest resources for living. Even though most of the community members in Sheka use non timber forest products of the forest, those who are economically poor are using the forest as a source of income by producing and selling charcoal and firewood. These are mostly the unemployed and disadvantaged sectors of the community such as the youth, women and minority groups like Menjas.
Recognizing this, MELCA-Ethiopia with the local government and the community is employing a program called alternative Income Generating activities (IGAs) in Sheka zone. These are activities like bee keeping, spice farming, animal fattening, home gardening and energy saving stove production. The activities are selected together with the beneficiaries based on their compatibility with sustainable forest management and biodiversity conservation goals.
Initially MELCA has been supporting the local community at the individual level by providing trainings as well as technical, material and financial supports. These individuals were selected based on their dependency on the forest and their economic status. Gradually with the support of MELCA and the local government, these individuals are now organized as a cooperative. Working together as a cooperative has a lot of advantages. Getting and developing skills, sharing skills and experiences, easy access to governmental support, getting loans and sharing workloads are some of the benefits that are acquired by being organized as a cooperative.
Currently there are about 37 cooperatives in sheka. All cooperatives are organized based on the members’ preferences and the appropriateness of the activity with the surrounding environment.
One of the cooperatives in Sheka zone, Masha woreda is called Metiganit bee keeping cooperative (which means bee is a source of wealth in Shekinono language). This cooperative has 25 members. It was established in 2012. Members took trainings on how to provide good quality honey to the market.
They have also got the necessary material, clothing for bee keeping, construction material for storing house and office in Masha town. The cooperative is also a member of Sheka bee products development and purchasing union. Being a member of the union has benefits like getting loan and selling their products for a good price.
In 2013 the cooperative got birr 5000 profit, in 2014 they got 125,000 birr loan from the union and bought 2942 kg honey from their own members. They sold it to the union and got 3276 birr profit paying back their loan and different expenses. They have now a total of birr 8000 saved in the bank.
Ato Engida Denu is a member of Metigant bee keeping cooperative. He expressed the benefit of being a member of the cooperative as follows; “Being a member of the cooperative has a lot of advantages; like we have a good acceptance before the government, unions and in the market, we have learnt the skill of marketing and also we have got a land in the town to construct a house where we store and sell our products. As a result of these, we can easily store and supply our product to the market.
Now we are also contributing to the conservation of the forest for our good. We are getting all these benefits because of the good environment our ancestors have conserved. Otherwise the bees could not survive here.”
In the near future Metigant bee keeping cooperative has a plan to be competitive in the international market by providing organic honey.
Shuno Bisha bee keeping cooperative is the other bee keeping cooperative in Masha woreda, Ateso kebele. Shuno Bisha bee keeping cooperative was established in 2014. It has 25 members. The area where they put beehives is surrounded by forest; which is a suitable place for bees to produce honey.
Ato Ayele Dokacho is the coordinator of the cooperative. He expressed the overall activity as follows; “before we were organized as a cooperative, we used to make bee hives by cutting trees. Just to make one bee hive we used to cut two or more trees. After that we hang the beehives on trees. Sometimes we fall and get hurt when we tried to hang the beehives.
The quality of honey was also poor. As a result of this, we sold it for low price. When we first came together as a cooperative we have got continuous trainings on how to produce honey using modern beehives and about forest conservation. MELCA has also given us 70 modern beehives, safety clothes and 10,000 birr as an initial capital. Bee keeping using modern beehives has a lot of advantages. We put the beehives in our backyard. We are also producing a good quality honey.
Previously we used to throw wax without knowing its benefit. But now we know its uses, it has profit like honey; so we are selling it in the market. We are providing a good quality honey to the market too.
We are also safeguarding the forest and our bee hives by shift. It is our means of existence. When we get anyone cutting tree, we take him/her to the court. The forest is our life; we exist if it exists.”
Shuno Bisha bee keeping cooperative is also a member of Sheka bee products development and purchasing union. Each member of the cooperative share profits according to the efforts that he/she contributes to the cooperative. In the future they plan to maximize their supply, maintain its quality and to compete in the international market.
The other bee keeping cooperative in Andracha woreda is Genji Zuria bee keeping cooperative. This cooperative was established before two years. It has 14 members. They have got 11,000 birr as an initial capital, 50 beehives, safety cloths and trainings from MELCA.
Ato Deneke Abeto is a coordinator of Genji Zuria bee keeping cooperative. He expressed what they have got as follows; “before we were organized in to a cooperative we used to engage in traditional bee keeping and a local food called “Enset” production. As it is a traditional way of bee keeping and the quality of honey was not good, we were unable to make a good profit. As a result we were obliged to sell in the local market.
Now there is a huge difference. Previously we used to sell one kilo of honey for 8 birr. After we improved the quality and become member of the union we are selling one kilo of honey for 40 birr. We have also got 70,000 birr loan from our union. From that, paying all our dept and expenses, we have got 6500 birr profit. We shared 70% of the profit and saved the remaining 30% in the bank. We have now 8777 birr saved in the bank.”
Genji Zuria bee keeping cooperative has a plan to construct storage house near the town. Members are also playing a great role in terms of environmental conservation by setting up environmental conservation committee in their cooperative.
Giracho Woditi animal fattening cooperative is the other cooperative in Masha woreda. Members of this cooperative are Menjas that were living in a poor economic status. In Shekinono language Giracho Woditi means the poor rescuer. Menjas were the most marginalized community in Sheka.
They were stigmatized to participate in social organizations like Idir or Debo where the community come together and support each other in funerals and weddings. Other communities stigmatize them because of their feeding habits and way of life that are considered by others as impure.
Absolute poverty is also the other factor, which made the inferior to others. Most Menjas did not have permanent dwelling. They were serving on other peoples land. Selling Charcoal and firewood was their means of income.
Giracho Woditi animal fattening cooperative was established in 2012. They have fifteen members. Aside from animal fattening they are also engaged in home gardening and crop production activities.
Ato Sahle Sadko is a member and coordinator of this cooperative. He expressed the changes in their life compared to the past by saying; “Poverty was the main factor that made us inferior to others. We lowered ourselves to survive. Including our wives and children, we were living by producing and selling charcoal and working as a servant for others. For instance, we used to serve others for seven days just to borrow an ox to farm our piece of land for a day.
Things are different now. We are generating our own income. Before we started, MELCA has given us trainings, 31 oxen, 12 transitional beehives and some farming tools. We started saving money from our per diem while we were taking trainings. When we brought our oxen and potato to the market, we got 12,880 birr profit from 15 oxen and 3030 birr profit from potato. We have also got 11,000 birr profit from oxen selling in the second round. Currently we have 16 oxen that are being fed to be sold.
So far, we have 59, 290 birr saved in our bank account. We also lent 7, 400 birr for our members at 10% interest rate. Our garden is full of vegetables. Our social interaction with others has now improved significantly. Previously, no one would buy foodstuff from us. Now we can sell our consumables without any problem.
We are sending our children to school. Knowledge is light. We lost that chance and now we do not want our children to lose it.”
In the future Giracho Woditi animal fattening cooperative members have planned to buy a car to transport their products to the market and get land in Masha town to build a store for their products.