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.
A movement to protect the forest, which is of great economic and cultural significance for the Sheka community, by getting it registered by UNESCO as one of the world’s biosphere reserve areas, has been officially declared in March 2011. A series of launching workshops were organized, then, for the various stakeholders at Masha Town of Sheka Zone.
The launching workshops were held with Sheka Zone and Masha Woreda government officials and representatives of relevant Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), representatives of Masha Woreda community, clan leaders from 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.
Steering committees that would undertake the processes and preparations required to get the forest registered as biosphere reserve have been formed both at zonal and woreda levels during these launching workshops. MELCA has also taken the responsibility of commissioning preparation of the nomination document for the biosphere reserve.
Consultation meetings intended to evaluate the progress made since March 2011 and make final preparations for the biosphere reserve registration have been held from 1-4 August 2011 in Masha Town of Sheka Zone.
Two consultation meetings were held during this time: one with zonal and woreda level government decision makers and the other with Kebele administrators, clan leaders and community representatives from Masha, Anderacha and Yeki woredas. Accomplishments by each of the task forces formed and given responsibility during the launching workshops have been presented as progress reports on both meetings.
Participants of the first consultation meeting were zonal and woreda level government decision makers and members of steering/technical committee formed at zonal and woreda levels.
Ato Alemu Achomo, vice administrator of Sheka Zone and Head of the Zonal Justice Office, made an opening speech to this meeting. In his opening speech Ato Alemu mentioned that these days many countries of the world are suffering from the effects of global warming due to climate change. He said, “The global climate change is mainly the result of natural resource degradation. Unlike many other places, Sheka, is not much affected by consequences of climate change because the communities of Sheka have been relatively better in conserving their natural resources, especially the forest. With the increasing population size, however, those conservation values of the community are gradually being eroded and the forest is not being conserved as it used to be. Hence the initiation to get the forest registered as the world’s biosphere reserve is a good opportunity for the Sheka community to get their forest conserved for the benefit of the present and future generation.” Ato Alemu concluded his opening speech by urging participants of the meeting to actively participate on discussion of issues to make the registration process fast and yet flawless.
Then Ato Haile Kotacho, special advisor to the zone administrator and chairman of the committee, presented a progress report of the activities done by steering committee formed at zonal level. In his progress report Ato Alemu stated that the steering committee at zonal level has formed technical and management committees at each of the woredas and assigned them activities that they are supposed to accomplish in their respective woredas as per the terms of reference set for them. Members of the committees formed at woredas were also provided trainings on the concept of biosphere reserve, its significance, and their role in the process.
Accordingly the committees in all the three woredas were engaged in organizing a series of consultation meetings with the local communities and determination of the size distribution of the reserve areas in their respective woredas. He mentioned that demarcation of the reserve area in to core, buffer and transitional zones suggested by the technical committees at woreda level were checked by the zonal supervisory steering committee and transferred to MELCA-Ethiopia, after being approved by zone administration.
It was also indicated in MELCA’s progress report presented by Ato Befekadu Refera, that concerned authorities and decision makers at both regional and central level have been informed of the commencement of movement for Sheka forest biosphere reserve and have promised to support the movement to the end.
The other development in the process is the completion of preparation of the biosphere nomination document commissioned by MELCA. Dr. Tadese W/ Mariam, who prepared the draft nomination document, presented it to the participants. The contents of the draft document ranges from introduction to UNESCO, conceptual meaning of biosphere reserve, functions of biosphere reserves, criteria for designating a given forest as biosphere reserve, and size distribution of the different management zones in the biosphere reserve. It is also described by Dr. Tadese that the size distribution of the different management zones of Sheka forest biosphere reserve, based on a study conducted by a GIS specialist, constitutes 68,240 hectares or 28.6% core zone, 81,946 hectares or 34.4% buffer zone and 88,075 hectares or 37% transitional zone.
After the presentation, extensive discussions were held on the issue of the difference between size distribution proposed in the nomination document and the ones suggested by technical committees of each of the woredas. Eventually the meeting resolved the issue by conciliating the proposition that appears in the nomination document and the ones suggested by woreda technical committees. As such the Sheka forest biosphere reserve nomination document has been made ready to be presented to regional and central concerned organs for its final endorsements.
The second consultative meeting was held with Kebele administrators, clan leaders and community representatives from Masha, Anderacha and Yeki woredas. On this meeting the community representatives were briefed about the biosphere reserve processes and progresses since March 2011, and the next plan.
Discussion was also held about what kinds of activities are allowed and prohibited in the three different management zones, what is expected of the community in the biosphere reserve registration process and even there after. During this meeting, members of the community demanded that more forest areas should be included in the core zone of the reserve area. Some more forest areas were included in the core zone as a result of their demand, though it was not to their satisfaction. Intensive discussions were made on this issue and they were, ultimately, convinced after hearing the explanations of criteria to include a given forest area in the core zone.
Finally the community representatives promised to contribute any thing in their capacity to take the biosphere reserve registration process to the intended end including sharing ideas with and raising the awareness of the community in their respective kebeles.
Over 130 government decision makers and community representatives have participated on the two consultative meetings.