Following the positive impact of a GEF Small Grants Programme supported project in Hawassa, Ethiopia, the government of Southern Nations Nationalities and People Region (SNNPR) decided to scale up the community-based practices that successfully conserved and restored severely degraded land in the area.
Mekebesa Aboye Kebele, the project site, is located near Lake Hawassa in the southern part of Ethiopia. Most of the people in the area derive their livelihood from crop production and livestock rearing, however, over-exploitation of the ecosystem had caused severe land degradation and gully formation. To solve the problem, the Mekebesa Abaye Forest and Soil Conservation Cooperative sought the support of the GEF Small Grants Programme to initiate a project to restore the land through sustainable land management practices while simultaneously strengthening livelihoods. The reforested area was to contribute to climate change mitigation.
The project targeted poor and vulnerable community members, involving a total of about 532 households, and focused on enhancing agricultural productivity and improving biodiversity conservation. Project participants were trained on a range of practices including soil and water conservation for proper land management, the building of energy-saving stoves, and the promotion of beekeeping (apiculture) as an alternative livelihood activity. In addition to gaining valuable skills and experiences, community members started to appreciate the benefits of GEF SGP activities in contributing to the rehabilitation of the area's ecosystem.
Consequently, the community managed to rehabilitate 352 hectares of their land holding through reforestation and area enclosure. As the flood hazard to the agricultural land eased, farmers were able to increase yields to support their families and provide food. Besides improved food security, community members were able to earn additional income through the production and sale of energy-saving stoves and honey.
The farmers continued to rehabilitate the area after the project was completed. Different types of trees are now growing on the enclosed land, showing how well degraded areas can be rehabilitated. The community has created a bylaw to protect the area and delineate how members can benefit from it. Having attracted widespread interest, the project has been visited by various organizations including academia, government staff and farmers. The approach of working with legally recognized Community Based Organizations (CBOs) has since spread to different districts and zones of the region.
Following these achievements, the communities were recognized by district, zonal and regional government staff as exemplary. This recognition also entailed increased financial support to upscale the project, allowing the communities to continue the activities that had been started with the GEF SGP grant, - which may ultimately foster a more harmonious coexistence of people with nature.