A Successful New Approach to Environmental Restoration and Improving Livelihoods in Degraded East African Highlands

This report presents an evaluation of an innovative 21-year research effort to restore native forests on severely eroded land in three villages at ±2,500m elevation.

Scott Jones | October 2016

Taking the heavily degraded Eritrean plateaux as an example, this evaluation report outlines why conservation and restoration of African mountain forests are fundamental to addressing climate change, sustaining economies, and protecting water supplies and soil. The aim of the original research project that took place 21 years ago, was to improve livelihoods and increase local people's options on dry lands where erosion had removed almost all soil, agriculture had been abandoned and the only options considered were grazing or eucalyptus plantation forestry. Between 1992 and 1995 Norwegian People's Aid (NPA) funded the research from the Sudan Sahel Ethiopia (SSE) grant, a Norwegian government programme that focused on challenges facing Africa's Sahelian dryland areas. Using a participatory research approach in three locations, eight long-term experiments were planted with various combinations of the two most locally valued native tree species (juniper and olive), and the most valued non-native species (eucalyptus) to assess which approaches to environmental restoration would best increase people's livelihood options.

In 2013 lead researcher Scott Jones, with support from the Drylands Coordination Group, carried out an evaluation of the original research project looking at tree survival and growth, and how much the work had impacted local communities. Results were overwhelmingly positive, showing that it is possible to achieve ecological restoration of heavily degraded land using highly prized native trees while simultaneously improving local people's livelihoods with fast growing trees and increased wood supply.

The evaluation showed that it is possible to restore heavily degraded highlands in East Africa while simultaneously improving livelihoods using combinations of native olive and juniper, and faster growing eucalyptus. All three species can co-exist, with native olive, juniper and herbs growing well underneath eucalyptus crowns, and eucalyptus providing harvestable timber after 10-15 years depending on site. Olive and juniper seedlings can survive, even when planted in small rock crevices. According to community elders who were initially concerned about losing grazing land, the quality and quantity of forage for grazing actually increased on sites where goats and sheep were carefully managed. Biodiversity increased on all sites.

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