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Developing Rural Resilience

Continuing our work to protect Metema's frankincense forest

The project

People in northern Ethiopia are living on the frontline of the climate crisis where temperatures are rising and land is becoming infertile. Ethiopia's Metema forest is in the last green belt before the start of the desert. But the climate crisis and deforestation has taken hold, and without action it could be extinct in 20 years.

This project in Metema, Ethiopia, is funded by the Darwin Initiative, and will continue until Autumn 2024. It will run alongside the UK Aid Match-funded Future Forest project, a project which shares many of the same objectives and activities.

Why is this project needed?

In northern Ethiopia, temperatures are rising, trees are disappearing, land is becoming infertile and the desert is spreading. The Metema forest in Ethiopia is in the last green belt before the start of the desert. Without action, it will be on the brink of extinction in just 20 years.

The climate crisis, high rates of tree felling, forest fires and unsustainable tapping for frankincense, is stopping the frankincense forest from regenerating. This will have a devastating impact on communities who rely on the forest for food and income. There will be no buffer between them and the encroaching desert.

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    frankincense tappers will be trained in new sustainable methods

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    farmers will be trained in climate-smart methods

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    fruit tree seedlings will be distributed for agroforestry

Our aims

  • To increase farmland productivity, reducing the need for further agricultural expansion into woodlands
  • To improve and inform sustainability of frankincense harvesting and increase the health of Boswellia frankincense trees
  • To provide tools and training to local enterprises, improving the quality of the frankincense resin they produce
  • To increase incomes of 360 households, by establishing 18 Village Tree Enterprises (VTEs), to sell sustainably sourced forest products, such as frankincense and honey. This will allow local people to diversify and improve their incomes, whilst incentivising sustainable use of the forest.

Why frankincense?

The Metema forest is particularly special because of its frankincense trees which are a lifeline for local communities. In this part of Ethiopia, they provide up to 30% of household income for the families who sell their resin which is used as incense and in essential oils around the world.

While frankincense trees can provide a vital source of income, unsustainable practices used to extract the resin, are putting their future at risk. That's why, through this project we are supporting communities with the tools and training they need to sustainably use frankincense trees and protect them for the future.

Shining a light on the work of our project partners:

This project has additional partners both in the UK and in Ethiopia, including Forest Research, Swansea University, Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute (EBI) and the Ethiopian Environment and Forest Research Institute (EFFRI). Details of each partner and their role as follows: 

  • Forest Research will assist remote sensing analysis, providing data on the condition and distribution of frankincense trees. This will help support conservation efforts and allow for the development of PFMC management plans for the Participatory forest management cooperatives [PFMCs].
    • Forest Research will also facilitate the co-designing of a methodology to map and measure the gendered impacts of the project for households and the communities, and the environment
  • Swansea University will help to create risk maps, providing a complete picture of the environment the frankincense are growing, including climate and environmental conditions (g. bushfires) and vegetation assessment. Using time-series remote sensing and GIS analysis, these maps will be incorporated into forest management plans. To build local capacity, training and results on GIS and remote sensing will be provided to government and project staff.
  • The Ethiopian Institute of Biodiversity (EBI) will conduct field studies, including a forest inventory of available forest resources. A site will be identified and demarcated to establish an conservation area with high biodiversity potential for protection. Following project completion, this site will be given to local authorities for long-term protection.
  • Ethiopian Environment and Forest Research Institute (EEFRI) will undertake an analysis comparing local Ethiopian tapping techniques to an improved method used in India, which has potential to improve harvesting. 240 tappers will receive training and equipment, to become familiar and proficient enough to adopt this new technique.
  • University of Gondar (UoG) will lead training for 2,250 farmers (all PFMC members) on climate-smart agriculture practices, such as agroforestry, sustainable grazing practices and improved water management.

About the PFMC management plans:

These community forest management plans will help guide frankincense tappers from each on which areas have been placed under increased protection and which are available for tapping. This framework to regulate tapping frequencies will greatly reduce tree damage. 

Our partners

This project has been made possible with match funding from the UK government grant scheme, the Darwin Initiative. We are working with our local partner, SUNARMA, to implement this project.