Two nongovernmental organizations, Farm Africa and SOS Sahel, were granted six million euros by the Netherlands, Ireland and Norway embassies for a Bale region sustainable management program.
The two NGOs are to perform rehabilitation work in the Bale forest in the Oromia region. The idea behind the well-financed program, according to the three donor embassies, is to rehabilitate the area and provide environmental training to the local pastoralist population.
The Adaba Dodola section of the Bale forest, is one of 58 natural forests in Ethiopia and 35 in the Oromia region alone. The project will cover the Bale and West Arsi Zone with its 13 woredas.
A population of 240,000 people will be direct beneficiaries of this six-year project according to Mesfin Ayele, Project manager from Farm Africa.
The idea behind the rehabilitation of the forest is to give alternative means of livelihood to the inhabitants of this region who depend on cow grazing and who destroy the forest for its wood. It is believed that better environmental practices can be achieved if the inhabitants of the area are brought into discussions to find alternative forms of sustaining their livelihood.
More specifically, Farm Africa and SOS Sahel will teach locals about more environment friendly methods of pastoralism, train them on farming methods, and give insights on honey production. This will allow Bale locals new ways to use the resources of the forest.
The inhabitants will also receive technical training and support on craftsmanship and skills that will allow them to sell their products on various regional markets. Tourist visits and support will also be another source of income.
"What we aim to do is involve the population in the discussions of alternative methods of sustainability," said Mesfin "and allow them to come up with alternative methods of livelihood."
The project touches upon geo-political and economical dimensions, not only environmental ones. In addition to the people living in the Bale area, an additional 12 million people living in Northern Kenya and Somalia depend on water coming from the Bale Mountains. Resource scarcity is often cited as a source of conflict throughout the area.
The well-financed program is to begin this month and last until 2011. During the period, the two NGOs are expected to achieve the project goals, said Mr. Pim De Keizer, rural development department head at the Netherlands Embassy, at a press conference last week.
"This is significant investment for the donor community," he said.
According to an expert who had first hand experience in this area, international concern is well placed. Local population will ultimately increase, demanding more of the forest in terms of resources.