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Turning it Around: Greening Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley

Available in: Français
March 12, 2010

As world leaders struggle to agree on a global deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a small town nestled against the rocky slopes of Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley is winning its own war against climate change. Rejuvenation of denuded land has brought great benefits to local communities, including from the sale of carbon credits from now-protected forests. The Humbo Assisted Natural Regeneration Project, developed by World Vision and the World Bank, is the first large-scale forestry project in Africa to be registered with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Humbo is a village about 420 kilometers south-east of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. Gelcha Gelana has lived there all his life and has seen the land change greatly during his 67 years.

“Three decades back, the mountains were covered with dense jungle and were home to diversified wild animal species including lions, leopards, hyenas, python and deer,” he said. “The grasses and leaves from the mountain served us with feed for our cattle and the forest’s dry fallen branches provided firewood.”

Women at Likimsie, Ethiopia
Women at Likimsie find their children healthier with clean water. Photo: World Vision
But since the 1960s, poverty, hunger, drought and an increasing demand for agricultural space has forced communities to over-use their natural resources. Many trees had been cut down for buildings, firewood, charcoal and furniture, with little or no regulation. “The forest gradually dwindled and changed into small bushes. Wild animals vanished and the mountains turned barren,” recalled Gelcha.

The over-exploitation of forest resources in Ethiopia has left less than 3 percent of the country’s native forests untouched. The deforestation around Humbo has threatened groundwater reserves that provide 65,000 people with potable water and has caused severe erosion. As a result, heavy rain events cause lowland areas to flood and in extreme events, mudslides kill people and livestock and damage crops, roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

Climate change is likely to compound Humbo’s vulnerability to natural disasters and poverty. With a population that depends heavily on agriculture for their livelihoods, increasing droughts and floods will create poverty traps for many households, thwarting their efforts to build up assets and invest in a better future.

Regeneration of the Humbo Mountain with the help of carbon credits

Isabel Hagbrink"The Humbo project is expected to sequester over 880,000 metric tonnes of CO2e over 30 years..." |  Read the entire blog post by Isabel Hagbrink, Senior Comms. Officer, Carbon Finance Unit, The World Bank 

Under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol, countries can earn carbon credits for reforestation and afforestation projects. The Humbo Regeneration Project will enable the future sale of more than 338,000 tonnes worth of carbon credits by 2017.

The World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund will purchase approximately fifty percent of that, providing a new income stream to the local communities who own the land and, therefore, also the carbon credits. Further revenue will be available to the community from the sale of the remaining carbon credits as well as from the sale of timber products from designated woodlots in the project area, and other agricultural produce including honey and cut fodder. It is a success story that gives hope to other African nations, illustrating how despite the complexity of the CDM it is possible to make carbon credits work for Africa.

“To date, Africa hosts less than 2 percent of all registered CDM projects. Promotion of land-use and forestry projects in this region is key to changing the status quo. Without this, it will be difficult for a post-Kyoto climate regime to gain support from African countries,” says Inger Andersen, Director, Sustainable Development (Africa Region) for the World Bank.

“In this regard, the registration of this project has a special significance. We believe that this project will encourage project developers to scale up land–use and forestry initiatives in this region, thus allowing African countries to benefit from opportunities of growing carbon markets while providing local communities with additional social, economic and environmental benefits.”

2nd Africa Carbon Forum

The challenge of increasing the number of CDM projects in Africa took center stage at the 2nd Africa Carbon Forum in Nairobi, Kenya on March 3-5, 2010. The event was organized by the World Bank in cooperation with the UN and the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA).

Africa Carbon ForumOver 1,000 participants attended the conference to discuss obstacles to developing projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as lack of financing, lack of experience and technical skill, land titling and monitoring challenges, and the complexity of CDM rules.

“One of the reasons why there have been so few CDM projects in Africa is that there hasn’t been the capacity or understanding on CDM and what we need to do in Africa. That’s why we have to come here. We shouldn’t expect Africa to come to us”, says Henry Derwent, President and CEO of IETA.

Africa faces particular challenges stemming from the fact that the continent’s relatively speaking low greenhouse gas emissions has kept it from developing large numbers of CDM projects. Project developers have concentrated on other regions with “low hanging fruit” before coming to Africa. The late start has resulted in a general lack of exposure to discussions regarding greenhouse gas emission reductions and project experience. This lack of involvement from the private sector, coupled with a lack of strong initiative-taking on behalf of most African governments, and the general reluctance by local banks to provide financing because they are not familiar with evaluating the risk of carbon projects, has hampered the development of CDM projects.

A Success Story

To illustrate what can be achieved with no small dose of determination, World Vision Ethiopia and the World Bank told the story of the forestry project in Humbo at a press conference held during the Africa Carbon Forum. On the Humbo Mountain, seven forest cooperatives have been established with local men and women and representatives from World Vision and the Ethiopian Forestry Department, to sustainably manage and reforest the surrounding land.

Cordia Africana
Cordia Africana, one of the endemic species that has been chosen for the regeneration of forest cover. Illustration by Adolf Engler (1844-1930) . Public Domain Image from Wikimedia Commons.
More than 90 percent of the Humbo project area has been reforested using the Farmer Managed Natural Forest Regeneration (FMNR) technique, which encourages new growth from tree stumps previously felled but still living. By using this method, the cooperatives have unearthed a vast ‘underground forest’. Many important native forest species, some of which are endangered, have been restored to the region, and in areas where no living tree stumps remained seedlings were used to restore the forest.

Since the establishment of the Humbo Regeneration Project, more than 2,700 hectares of degraded land – land that was continually exploited for wood, charcoal and fodder extraction - has been restored and protected.

The community has been surprised and excited to see the quantity and speed with which vegetation now grows on the once rocky and barren slope. The regeneration project has resulted in an increased production of wood and tree products, such as honey and fruit, which contribute to household economies. Improved land management has also stimulated grass growth, providing fodder for livestock that can be cut and sold as an additional source of income, and the regeneration of the native forest is expected to provide an important habitat for many local species and reduce soil erosion and flooding.

The protected areas of forest now also act as a ‘carbon sink,’ absorbing and storing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere to help mitigate climate change. Over the 30 year crediting period, the project will cut an estimated 880,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
World Vision Australia CEO Tim Costello said the Humbo Assisted Natural Regeneration Project was a highly successful example of reforestation that alleviates poverty while also addressing climate change.

Update: Videos of the Humbo Project from November 2011 and May 2012

“World Vision has been working with poor communities for more than 20 years to implement environmentally sustainable projects that create jobs and reduce poverty,” he said. “While the income from the carbon credits is a welcome bonus, other tangible benefits from the project come from building resilience against climate impacts.

“Vulnerable communities are empowered to move from passive victims of climate change to active agents able to withstand droughts, food insecurity and loss of livelihoods. This project demonstrates what can be achieved when we work with poor countries to help communities develop sustainably.”
Although the community welcomes the opportunity to benefit from the carbon trading scheme, co-operative members like Gelcha are also just as happy to see their ecosystem regenerated.

“I am lucky to see the mountain recovered and soil erosion reduced, these problems have been threatening our life and exposing us to food insecurity for years. And the weather conditions are becoming cooler and some wild animals have started returning to the regenerated forest,” he said with a smile.

Related Links

Carbon Finance web site
Why so few carbon projects in Africa?
Ethiopia Country Brief 
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

This article was contributed by Isabel Hagbrink, Senior Communications Officer, Carbon Finance Unit. You may email her for more information. 

Last updated: 2012-05-22

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