May 14, 2012

Landscape of the Week: Humbo, Ethiopia

Tony Rinaudo, World Vision

Regreening initiatives are striving to combat or even reverse land degradation in the arid Sahelian region of Africa. This tactic is reaching significant scale, with benefits not only to the environment, but also for agricultural production and the livelihoods of rural people.

Tony Rinaudo, World Vision’s natural resource management advisor in Australia, and wife Liz (also with World Vision) discuss one such project in Humbo, Ethiopia. They are travelling in East Africa for three months (March-May) to stimulate the regeneration of forests and farmland using Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration.

Restoring a Forest

Ethiopia – once a land of beautiful forests is now largely characterised by denuded mountains, cavernous eroded gullies and richly soiled fields traversed by smaller channels. From the top of many hills, the landscape appears deeply scarred.

Humbo in southern Ethiopia is an area which has been racked by famine, which resulted in communities receiving food aid year after year.

Humbo hills in 2000 before restoration of the forest

In 2004, World Vision had identified the hills around Humbo as suitable for a large reforestation project and after extensive consultation and negotiation with the community, the Ethiopian government, and the World Bank, 2,728 hectares were selected for a community managed natural regeneration project. It would attract carbon sequestration income to the community, as well as restore the productive capacity of the land, reducing the erosive force of rainwater running off the hills, and reviving the local streams and springs.

After travelling 6 hours on good but congested highway from Addis Ababa to Soddo and then an hour on bone-rattling roads to the project site, we met with communities and climbed one of the hills. The reforestation was so successful that several of us were temporarily lost on the hill (which had previously been completely bare), unable to see or hear the main group.

We were privileged to observe a group from one community working on the hill – pruning the trees in a sustainable way, so that they would grow well and continue to be productive while families were able to harvest firewood for domestic use and grass for their livestock and for sale.

The success of this project was anchored in the simplicity of the concept and the development of the capacity of the communities to manage the forest, their cooperatives, and the governance of their own affairs. Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) is a simple concept – identify the living stumps, select the ones you want to regrow, prune the shoots so that 3-5 remain and continue to care for/protect those shoots. This includes developing a livestock management plan. However, FMNR cannot succeed unless the community learns to work together.

How did this transformation occur? Hailu Tefera, the manager of the project team, has worked with the seven communities to convince them that it was in their interest to restore the hills. The team initially met with strong opposition, as there were those who thought their livelihoods would be threatened and one lobby that tried to convince others that their land would be given to international investors. However they continued to work with politicians, elders, and other significant opinion leaders and eventually won support.

Today, the government has granted user rights to the communities and seven cooperatives manage restored forest. They each have a plan and bylaws for managing their part of the forest, including the management of livestock, the assignment of forest guards, and the development of fire-fighting awareness, skills, and procedures. The cooperatives also identify those who have been disadvantaged by the protection of the hills and provide them with assistance to take up sewing or trading.  People require permission to enter the forest, and this is granted for working bee populations and harvesting of grass and previously pruned branches. These are left on the ground after pruning until the leaves have dried and fallen off, to provide a mulch to protect the slopes from heavy rainfall and to increase the organic matter in the soil. Bare patches where no live stumps were found have been planted with Grevillia robusta (Silky Oak), Eucalyptus, and Acacia saligna. The birds and other wildlife have started to return.

The communities have earned $84,000 for the carbon sequestered so far in the forest, and the seven cooperatives are using it for development projects to benefit the communities. Such projects include the purchase of a grain mill, building storage infrastructure, and investing in transportation to reach bigger markets.

One of the exciting results of this project is that the Ethiopian government and the World Bank now recognise the Humbo project as a model for successful restoration of forests. The Ethiopian government has set a goal of restoring 15 million hectares of forest and FMNR is likely to be included in the strategy.

Humbo hills in 2007 after three years of Community-managed Natural Regeneration

For more information: Humbo Assisted Natural Regeneration Project. This post has been modified with permission from Beating the Famine blog.

No comments

  • David Price
    October 29, 2012 at 3:33am

    Awesome project! Incredible to have the local communities so strongly behind it.
    One question though–I’ve worked for 25 years in SE Asia, particularly Indonesia, and I’m never been anywhere there were not good native analogs for exotic Eucalyptus, Acacia and even Leucaena (which is invasive to the extreme), yet those are favored almost everywhere. And here, they invariably become invasive, hindering recovery of native biodiversity. I’m glad to hear that most of what you’re planting (or replanting) is native.

  • Pat Heslop-Harrison
    May 22, 2012 at 7:04am

    I’ve finally edited my video and posted my blog about another project in Axum, Ethiopia, addressing rather similar issues to the description here – Again, Eucalyptus and Grevillea are being planted on terraces on denuded slopes, again involving local people in removing goats and firewood collection. There are also mills, mentioned above, on the walk up to the hillside – see

  • Ayele Kebede Gebreyes/Ethiopia
    May 16, 2012 at 2:01am

    I feel grateful that I had the opportunity to visit this place sometime in 2011. Humbo is an empirical example for many. I have to congratulate all institutions and individuals walked through the rocky road to make this happen.

    My simple comment here is that it would have been more comfortable if the success being told with regard to the effort made to regulate the population and also the health aspect to integrate these interwoven aspects.

    I remember also there was wise recommendation to introduce some fruit trees as hedge trees and exercise soil and water conservation works both physical and biological on individual farm plots. I wish to see some 10, 20 30 … Humbos in the time to come.