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The Sheka forest is one of Ethiopia's largest and last remaining tropical forests. Clan leaders, the local community and the local government have come together with the support of local partner, MELCA Ethiopia, to help secure the future of the forest, and to enhance sustainable livelihood options.
Ethiopia officially inaugurated the registration of the Sheka Forest by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as Global Biosphere Reserve this week. UNESCO has added the Sheka Forest to its global list of 599 Biosphere Reserves in 117 countries last year in Paris.
At the inauguration ceremony held in Sheka Zone, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples State Chief Shiferaw Shigute lauded the contribution of the traditional forest conservation practice of the local people which is exemplary to the country and the world as well.
Forest is highly considered as life in the tradition of the people of Sheka. One of the objectives of the inauguration was to promote the culture of the Shekicho community and their tradition of natural resource conservation.
“The local people should be appreciated for their wise forest conservation which is recognized by UNESCO. Most importantly, the local people need to be more beneficiary from the forest. In this regard, the government has been working with the people to ensure that the forest generates more income for the local people,” Shiferaw said.
According to Sheka Zone Administrator Befkadu Dillo, this is a great chance that the biosphere serves in the eco-tourism, carbon trading and as a scientific research centre thereby adding more value to the promotion of the zone. “We are pleased with UNESCO's adoption of our natural forest as a biosphere reserve,” he said.
Sheka Forest is located in the Sheka Zone of the SNNP State. It covers a unique bio-geographic unit extending from cold and very wet highlands bordering Illubabor and Kafa to hot lowland areas bordering Gambella and Bench-Maji. The whole area is very diverse with contrasting landscape elements, habitats and cultural practices.
State Chief Shiferaw called upon the Sheka people to uphold and strengthen the traditional forest conservation so as to ensure sustainable environment protection and maintain more friendly ecosystem.
Representing UNESCO, Science and Technology State Minister Mahmuda Ahmed Ga'as on his part said that Sheka Biosphere Reserve would contribute greately in tackling climate change and to preserve biodiversity. Thus, he added, the designation of the Forest by UNESCO has immense contribution in sustaining and creating healthy ecosystem in the country.
He indicated that the forest of Sheka is important for the role it plays in protection of watersheds that have local and international significance in the Nile and Omo-Ghibe or Lake Turkana Basins. According to him, other people are expected to emulate from the traditional forest conservation practice of the Sheka people.
Researches indicate that the Sheka Forest is one of the few forests in Ethiopia that is rich in biodiversity and has an irreplaceable value in terms of providing a healthy ecosystem for the entire area.
According to UNESCO’s definition, biosphere reserves are places recognized by Man And Biosphere (MAB) where local communities are actively involved in governance and management, research, education, training and monitoring at the service of both socio-economic development and biodiversity conservation.
MELKA-Ethiopia, an NGO working on creating sustainable relationship with nature, has played its due role in the nomination process of Sheka Forest Biosphere Reserve based on the local administration demand.