“Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) has been the core strategy in the first Growth and Transformation plan (GTP) of the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) and will continue to be so in the second GTP about to be launched.
This is so because the government has initiated the CRGE to protect the country from the adverse effects of climate change and to build a green economy that will help realize its plan of reaching middle-income status by 2025.
Hence, getting our few remaining natural forests and biodiversity hot spot areas registered as biosphere reserves and protected by laws and regulations to that effect would be an indispensable strategy for the realization of the CRGE.”
The foregoing is a statement by H.E W/ro Demitu Hambisa, Minister of the FDRE Ministry of Science and Technology in the opening speech she made at the National Consultative Meeting on the implementation of UNESCO’s MAB program in Ethiopia, held from September 8-9, 2015 in Bishoftu Town.
The consultative meeting was organized by the FDRE Ministry of Science and Technology in collaboration with MELCA-Ethiopia, NABU and ECFF, NGOs engaged in facilitating registration of biosphere reserves by UNESCO.
The objectives of the meeting were:
– To review the progress made so far in the four biosphere reserves, namely, Kefa, Sheka, Yayu and Tana in the areas of sustainable development, conservation and environmental education,
– To explore how to improve better coordination and collaboration among actors working on biosphere reserves including development, research and conservation and
– To promote the designation of more areas as a biosphere reserve and as a demonstration of man living in harmony with nature.
As has already been mentioned above, the meeting was opened with an opening speech by H.E W/ro Demitu Hambisa. In addition to what has been quoted above, W/ro Demitu stated, in her opening speech, the fact that 4 biosphere reserves have been registered by UNESCO in the past 5 years shows the attention given by the government for the success of MAB program in Ethiopia.
The minister also underscored that although non-governmental actors engaged in environment and conservation of biodiversity take the role of facilitating the nomination process, it is a government program to be handled and administered by relevant government organs. While the Ministry of Science and Technology plays the role of coordinating and leading the overall program, it is the responsibility of regional governments and their corresponding structures to manage the nomination and registration process of biosphere reserves and administer them afterwards
She explained that the main purpose of getting an area registered as a biosphere reserve is to conserve the biodiversity in that area while bringing benefits to the communities in that area through ensuring sustainable development and logistical functions. That is why the program is named as MAB; enabling humans to live in harmony with nature. So the local government organs in charge of administering the biosphere reserves and non-governmental actors supporting the program should make sure that the community has benefitted from the biosphere reserve. This can come in the form of branding and certifying the forest products, promoting eco-tourism and initiating demand driven and problem solving researches. She also reaffirmed that her office will work to enhance the benefits accrued from biosphere reserves by commissioning action researches around biosphere reserves and strengthening University to Industry linkages.
Mr. Mulugeta Seid, state Minister of the FDRE Ministry of Culture and Tourism has also made a keynote speech on the occasion. In his keynote speech, Mr. Mulugeta said, “…biosphere reserves are areas endowed with bio-cultural diversity. They are areas important for the cultural and biological heritage of the community in the area that should be conserved and transferred to the next generation. They are different from protected areas and parks because there is a human element in them. The interest and benefit of the community in the area is the main agenda to be promoted along with conservation of the biodiversity.
So all stakeholders should work hand in hand to create a network of all biosphere reserves in the country for maximization of their contribution for the success of the CRGE. Biosphere reserves are cross sectoral by their very nature. So all stakeholders should work together so that the communities and country at large shall make as much advantage of the program for social and economic development as possible”
During the meeting, the three biosphere reserves in southwest Ethiopia, namely the Yayu Coffee Forest Biosphere Reserve, Kafa Forest Biosphere Reserve and Sheka Forest Biosphere Reserve and the newly registered Tana biosphere reserve shared their experiences of accomplishments and achievements gained as well as challenges they faced since their establishment. All the four biosphere reserves reported that the sense of belongingness of the community has increased and flow of investments in the biosphere reserves have decreased since adoption of the forests as biosphere reserves. They also reported absence of institutional set up that is responsible for the management of biosphere reserve, lack of trained manpower and financial system as their common challenges.
Majang biosphere reserve, which is in the making, has also reported its status in the nomination process. It is reported that the plan is to get Majang forest registered by UNESCO as biosphere reserve in 2016. That will make it the 5th biosphere reserve in Ethiopia.
Presentations by the representatives of the biosphere reserves revealed the experience of managing biosphere reserves, creation of alternative livelihood activities for members of the communities, conservation of the biodiversity and reduction of large scale agricultural investments in the biosphere area as major successes. They also reported lack of institutional and financial arrangements for managing the biosphere reserves as the major challenges common to all.
A whole session reflection and discussion was held after the group presentations. The main consensus reached at this stage was regarding institutional arrangements. It was pointed out that the government organs responsible for managing and administering the biosphere reserves, including budget allocation, are the regional government and the line department assigned by the regional government to that effect.
Then participants of the meeting split in to four groups to discuss on and identify:
– Best practices and lessons learnt
– Challenges and possible solutions,
– Institutional issues,
– The role of government organs at federal and regional levels and
– The way forwardMajor points that came out through the group discussions were:
– It is crucial that the government at regional level should be involved in the management and administration of biosphere reserves like it has been done in Amhara regional state with respect to Tana biosphere reserve
– Branding and certification of products from within the biosphere reserve would increase sense of belongingness of the community
– Conservation of bio-cultural diversity of the community
– Recognition of traditional governance systems of the communities
As a way forward, a general agreement has been reached to have a national strategic plan for biosphere reserves. The strategic plan would specify the roles and responsibilities of each of the government organs and non government actors and would set a direction for formation and management of biosphere reserves in the future.
More than 80 representatives of federal and regional government offices including the ministry of science and technology, ministry of culture and tourism, Ministry of environment and forest, ministry of agriculture, Ethiopian biodiversity institute regional and zonal offices in the same line and non governmental organizations engaged in environment and forest issues have participated on the meeting.