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Green light for Ethiopia's REDD project

The Bale massif is the largest Afro-alpine habitat on the continent (FARM-Africa)
The Bale massif is the largest Afro-alpine habitat on the continent

The Bale Mountains of south eastern Ethiopia are a water tower for millions in East Africa. In recent years, however, agricultural expansion has lead to substantial and continuing deforestation, threatening the watershed functions of the mountain region. Immigration has accentuated the problem, with settlers from other parts of Ethiopia carving farmland from government-owned forest. Yet, given the right incentives, many forest products could be harvested without threatening the forest or its great biodiversity. In addition, a new scheme currently under development could make the Bale Mountains one of the largest Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) projects in the world.

The development of such a REDD project is not simple, with issues of land tenure a particular problem. In Ethiopia, a largely rural population is dependent on resources that do not legally belong to them; uncertain of state forest authority plans, they have little incentive for sustainable harvesting. Over the last ten years, however, two NGOs - FARM-Africa and SOS Sahel - have successfully promoted participatory forest management (PFM) in the area, and this has now been included in regional and federal forest planning (see Putting people before trees). PFM enables communities to earn money from their forest and encourages more sustainable, longer-term management.

Sustainable finance

But PFM cannot succeed without investment and training. Hence, if large areas of forest are to be managed sustainably and continue providing environmental services, long-term finance is needed. The Bale REDD project aims to meet this need. By avoiding deforestation that would have occurred in the project's absence, carbon credits are generated and can be sold to individuals or organisations in voluntary carbon markets.

An estimated 12 million people rely on the Bale Mountains for their water needs (FARM-Africa)
An estimated 12 million people rely on the Bale Mountains for their water needs

The amount of carbon credits available is estimated from the difference between a business-as-usual deforestation scenario - the rate of deforestation across the Bale region is three to nine per cent - and a REDD project scenario. If the rate of deforestation could be reduced by just half over the 500,000 hectare area, a 20 year REDD project could prevent millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases from reaching the atmosphere. Sale of these emission reductions could generate significant revenues.

In order for the project to be successful the finance generated from carbon credit sales must reach those who bear the costs of forest conservation. No consensus currently exists on how the finance from sale of carbon credits should be shared. However, revenues must cover a wide range of costs, including: project development; forest conservation activities; third party monitoring, verification and certification of the emissions reductions; and the marketing and sale of emissions reductions, including design of legal contracts. It might also support national level capacity building for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The Bale REDD project is investigating the costs of avoided deforestation to the livelihoods of communities living in and around the forest. With this information, an assessment will be made as to whether community needs can be met amongst all other project costs. There are also plans to establish a trust fund, managed by representatives of the forestry department, community based organisations, NGOs and a member of the carbon finance sector. This fund would receive a large proportion of the carbon revenue and aid in the re-distribution of funds to communities.

Sustainable management

Ongoing sale of carbon credits is dependent on communities complying with forest management plans. To support this, a number of practical measures are being taken. New plantations and community woodlots are being established, so that households have legitimate sources of wood for fuel and building material. Fuel efficient stoves are being promoted and improved fire management systems introduced. Without these measures it is possible that deforestation is merely shifted outside of the project area, leading to no actual emission reductions.

Lessons from the Bale project can be replicated in other forest areas in Ethiopia and beyond (FARM-Africa)
Lessons from the Bale project can be replicated in other forest areas in Ethiopia and beyond

Institutional capacity to sustain the REDD project is another concern. Potential buyers must be confident that carbon in forests will remain protected for the full term of the contract - a minimum of 20 years - regardless, for example, of changes in commodity prices or political leadership. In Bale, relevant government bodies have been included in all stages of the project design process. As a result, the regional government has taken on responsibility for the ongoing maintenance of the REDD project should the current state body, Oromia Forest Enterprise, no longer be able to fulfil the role.

The Bale REDD project is in the early stages of project development. By engaging all relevant stakeholders and receiving input from research institutions, the project has sought to avoid the common pitfalls that have kept REDD out of carbon markets to date. As the project evolves, incorporating and meeting the diverse stakeholder needs is seen as key. If these needs can be met, Bale REDD could bring much needed finance to conserve the forests of the Bale Mountains and maintain its environmental services that support the livelihoods of millions.

Written by: Tsegaye Tadesse

Date published: September 2009


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