Over the past six years, the Wild Coffee Conservation Project has worked with 55 forest management groups to secure more than 60,000 hectares of forest under these PFM agreements.
By Fiona Hesselden |
Coffee is the drink of choice for millions of us. But the world’s second-most traded commodity originates in Ethiopia – and its home is under threat.
Ethiopia isn’t all dusty deserts – far from it. The country also contains rugged highlands and lush, tropical forests. Coffea arabica grows here in its original, wild form. The forests of south-west Ethiopia are considered to be the birthplace of coffee and the center of its genetic diversity.
But these forests and this gene pool are under pressure. It is already one of the last major woodlands remaining in Ethiopia, and deforestation over the past 40 years has resulted in the loss of one-third of the south-west’s forest cover. We risk losing the forests entirely in coming decades.
It is critical that these forests are protected. Commercially grown coffee has been bred over the years to ensure high yields and other useful characteristics. But it is descended from a small number of individual plants, and so relies on a relatively narrow genetic range – just 10% of the diversity found in the wild. This makes it vulnerable to pests – and climate change is an additional threat.
Wild coffee on the other hand exhibits much greater genetic diversity, which increases its chances of adapting to new challenges and reduces the possibility of extinction. It represents an insurance policy for plantation coffee, in case commercial strains are ever badly damaged.
These forests also play a critical role as a “water tower” for the river Nile – serving lowland Ethiopia, South Sudan and Egypt, storing carbon to stabilize the climate and enhancing rainfall upwind in the often drought-affected, northern highlands of Ethiopia.
But maintaining these forests is difficult. Rainfall in the south-west is good and the soil fertile and there is a long history of people moving here for farming, including from the drier and more densely settled north of the country. This, alongside investor interest in commercial coffee and tea plantations, has seen agricultural land encroach on the forest. Without adequate resources to police such a large area, the forest became “open access” – anyone could go in and take what they wanted and they rarely got apprehended.
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- Shade Coffee Is for the Birds: But Even in the Ethiopian Home of Arabica, Forests Are Needed Too
- Fairtrade Coffee is Ethiopia’s Lifeblood But While the Drink Is Available in Abundance, Food Is Not