Officially inaugurating the registration of the forest by UNESCO
Wella Shamamo Welashe is an elder who lives in Masha town of Sheka Zone in Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples state. He is one of the elders who have been discharging various social responsibilities in the area. In Shekicho community, elders have a special role and responsibility in guiding the youth onto the right direction. According to Wella Shamamo, the people of Sheka, particularly elders, are best known by their traditional forest conservation activities.
Regarding the use of forest, he said: “I believe Sheka is lung of the globe. There is fresh air here due to its natural forest that we have been conserving for long time. Many thanks to our forefathers!
The forest is everything for us—the food we eat, the medicine we take, the water we drink- everything is from the forest—it is our life. Look! Trees are our sons and daughters. We, the people of Sheka, take care of the trees like our children. Yes! trees deserve to be considered as children.”
He said that the Shekicho people use the forest in an effective and wisely manner. “We use only dry trees for firewood. If someone is oblige to cut a tree, he cuts. However, he knows that he must plant another one. This is our culture. Nobody forces us to do so. Elders like me have the responsibility to handover this forest conservation culture to the youth,” the elder said.
This natural thick Sheka forest which the above elder refers to has been registered by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization_(UNESCO) as a Global Biosphere Reserve. Of late, Ethiopia officially inaugurated the registration of the Sheka Forest by the UNESCO as global biosphere reserve in Sheka. UNESCO has added the Sheka Forest to its global list of 599 Biosphere Reserves in 117 countries, on 11, July 2012 in Paris.
One of the objectives of the inauguration ceremony was to promote the culture of Shekicho community and their tradition of natural resource conservation. Besides, it was organized to call on the concerted effort of all stakeholders for conservation of the forest and related cultural values as well as to create a common understanding of stakeholders about the biosphere reserve.
Sheka is one of the 14 zones of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples state. The UNESCO registered Sheka Forest is mainly found in this zone. It is located in the southwestern part of Ethiopia which is found at 676 Kms far from Addis Ababa.
Sheka forest 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.
As the elder indicated, the people of Sheka have strong connection with the forest. They are mainly dependent on agriculture. Mostly, they make livelihood from honey they produce in the forest.
The forest in which they produce honey in it, is managed through customary forest management called Kobbo. In Kobbo, the forest is divided among members of the community who will use it only for hanging beehives and collecting spices. A holder of part of the forest through Kobbo is forbidden to cut trees in his holdings. Other parts of the forest are protected as natural sacred sites, in which not anyone can enter.
Since the people of Sheka and the local government wanted to strengthen conservation of the forest and its transfer to the next generation, they demanded adoption of the forest by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve. Accordingly, nomination procedures have been undertaken and concluded by adoption of the forest as Man And Biosphere (MAB).
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.
There is no doubt that ensuring the benefit of the community from the forest is crucial for further conservation of the forest. In order to maximize the benefit of the community, a system for utilization of non-timber products such as forest coffee, honey, and cardamon has been established.
According to Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples State Chief Shiferaw Shigute, the local people need to be more beneficiary from the forest. In this regard, he added, the government has been working with the people and local administration to ensure that the forest generates more income for the local community.
Sheka is endowed with immense natural beauty such as its magnificent landscape and full of fauna and flora. The secret to the beauty of Sheka is the traditional forest conservation systems established by the forefathers who lived in the area and it is still being implemented by the community.
For the community in Sheka, forest is life. They get forest products like honey, spices and construction materials from it. The forest is also home for wild life which is part of the biodiversity. Besides, the forest is the place where the community of Sheka undertakes traditional religious rituals and burial ceremony. Generally, as to elder Wella Shamamo, the forest is a resource they want to conserve for next generations.
Fabulously, the people of Sheka are well aware of the fact that there is a natural interconnection between and among wetlands, rivers and the forest. True, the wetlands and the forest are vital for the existence of the rivers and vice versa. Hence, the traditional conservation system is one that takes this interconnection into consideration.
So far, the Shekicho community has conserved the forest through their deep-rooted culture of conserving species, ecosystems and natural habitats. Possibly, erosion of this culture of conserving the forest combined with other internal and external factors would put the forest under pressure.
Hence, the Shekicho community and the local administrative organs should further ensure the conservation of their forest in a more structured and systematic way. The adoption of the forest by UNESCO should be considered as just the beginning of an organized, all inclusive and concerted effort toward conserving the forest.
However, this needs to be applicable in the way the local community have been practicing to further ensure the conservation. Any activities or interventions in the area should further remain to be all inclusive. That is how Sheka, as local elders best describe the forest, could continue to be the lung of the globe.