Community based monitoring of the Kafa Biosphere Reserve in Ethiopia
The Kafa Biosphere Reserve in Ethiopia is home to one of the country's last natural forest regions and is remarkable for its biodiversity. The region is characterised by Afromontane mountain cloud forests, bamboo forests, rainforests with wild Coffea arabica, and extensive wetlands and shrublands. Nevertheless, local biodiversity remains insufficiently recorded. The numerous rivers and wetlands have hardly been explored in their complexity and significance.
Today, continued population growth, poverty, illegal migration, agricultural investments and the climate crisis have led to ecosystem degradation. What's more, the Kafa Biosphere Reserve administration doesn’t have enough information on the extent and nature of the degradation to adequately address it. This project, implemented by Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) and funded by BMZ, set out to establish a community based forest and biodiversity monitoring system to gather the information needed.
Above: A Schefflera abyssinica tree in the Kafa Biosphere Reserve. Photo by Eden Demissie.
The Kafa Biosphere Reserve holds one of the last natural wild coffee regions in Ethiopia and is characterised by its biodiversity and extensive wetlands. The local population, of which over 90% are smallholder farmers, are intensely dependent on the natural resources and ecosystem services of their environment.
Besides the ecosystem degradation, the effects of the climate crisis on agriculture and wild coffee are noticeable. At the same time, an increased loss of traditional knowledge of ecosystems and stable cultivation systems has been observed, especially among young people. In order to promote biodiversity conservation practices and improve the health of the ecosystem, a monitoring system utilising local knowledge was required in order to understand and improve the current situation and track the impact of activities.
A citizen observing and documenting forest cover in the Kafa Biosphere Reserve. Photo by Eden Demissie.
Setting up a community based data collection system is an innovative approach to forest and biodiversity monitoring. It can be seen in the light of a larger citizen science movement, in which citizens are actively involved in data collection and analysis. In 2017, Akvo was selected to set up and pilot the monitoring system for biodiversity, carbon, and forest and ecosystem disturbance over a two year project period. Local community members - those who know and depend upon the reserve more than anyone - have been trained and involved in the data collection themselves, making this project unique in the field of citizen science.
One of the first tasks was to select five pilot zones in the Kafa Biosphere Reserve and to identify local actors, from natural resource experts to farmers. The success of the project is largely dependent on the knowledge and commitment of these individuals. While Akvo’s data platform is essential in creating the monitoring system, one of the core components is to ensure that the system is used effectively by local actors to monitor biodiversity, forest disturbance, and carbon storage. Alongside technical training and support, Akvo conducted a thorough design phase to ensure alignment, collaboration, and buy-in from everyone involved.
Observing and documenting plant species in the Kafa Biosphere Reserve. Photo by Eden Demissie.
A community based monitoring system has been established in the Kafa Biosphere Reserve, allowing a steady stream of biodiversity data to come in. Using this information from community members, practices and policies can be established to protect the reserve, preserve traditional cultivation methods, and improve the living conditions of the local citizens.
Currently, over 100 community members in the five pilot areas have been trained in data collection and regular field trips are organised in which community members and forest rangers together collect data. Next, we’re planning to conduct a workshop on data analysis and visualisation for the Kafa Biosphere Reserve administration so that they can start using the data to improve policy and management practices. We’ll continue to engage community members to support the local ownership and sustainability of this project, engage future generations, and secure the ecosystem’s future.