German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


Project Profile: Ethiopia

Nature conservation cooperation with Ethiopia
Conservation and sustainable use in biosphere reserves


Wild coffee forest (author: F. Gatzweiler)
Wild coffee forest

Ethiopia is part of two biodiversity hotspots of global significance: The Eastern Afromontane and the Horn of Africa. One of the endemic species particularly economically important to the country is Coffea arabica, which in mountain regions grows in the wild. Wild coffee is not only consumed locally and worldwide. It also serves as key breeding stock for new coffee varieties. As forest now covers less than three percent of the Ethiopian land surface, the country’s wild coffee populations are severely endangered.

As a contribution towards conserving the forests and their biodiversity, a research project was carried out from 2002 to 2009 by the University of Bonn and partners, with funding from the German Ministry of Education and Research. The project aimed to study the remaining locations where wild coffee grows in south-western Ethiopia and to develop ideas for their conservation and sustainable use. The German Environment Ministry and BfN have been supporting the preservation of wild coffee since 2006.

From research to action

Wild coffee plant (author: M. Denich)
Wild coffee plant

At a workshop on Biodiversity Conservation and Poverty Reduction in Human-Transformed Landscapes in Ethiopia in Addis Ababa in 2006, various approaches to conservation and sustainable use were presented and discussed, among others, participative forest management and UNESCO biosphere reserves. Both of these were considered to be adequate options for the conservation and sustainable use of wild coffee forests. The workshop set up a task force to determine what needed to be done to establish biosphere reserves in Ethiopia.

Schools competition

Result of the schools competition (author: M. Denich)
Schools competition entry

In order to raise public awareness of the importance of conserving the "national ressource wild coffee", BfN supported a schools competition in 2007. Schoolchildren from wild coffee areas wrote songs and poems and painted pictures highlighting the importance of wild coffee and the need to protect forests for the local population. The competition also brought to light local knowledge on sustainable management strategies previously unknown to the researchers. The songs and poems were publicised in the radio, television and print media, raising awareness of wild coffee and its habitats nationwide.

Workshop on Landscape Planning

The research revealed that setting up biosphere reserves with core areas, buffer zones and transition areas would be an effective way of promoting the conservation and sustainable use of wild coffee. There were two suitable regions in the south-west of the country. To build capacity for the planning of a biosphere reserve, BfN and ECFF held a landscape planning workshop in Metu in 2007. Landscape planning had already proven a useful aid to biosphere planning and management in Germany. The potential for creating cooperation and communication platforms was found to be particularly helpful as the work continued. The involvement of all stakeholders is an important requirement for the recognition of biosphere reserves by UNESCO.

Support in nomination process

Ethiopian woman demonstrating the coffee ceremony (author: B. Hedden-Dunkhorst)
Ethiopian woman demonstrating the coffee ceremony

ECFF, BfN and their partners held an event for high-ranking guests in Addis Ababa in 2009 to draw attention to the potential of biosphere reserves and the activities already completed and to obtain the support of political decision makers. Not only the Minister of Science and Technology, the minister responsible, but also the President of Ethiopia spoke out in favour of supporting a nomination process for biosphere reserves to conserve the coffee forests. It is partly as a result of this event that biosphere reserves are regarded as a useful way of aligning environmental, social and economic interests around sustainable development objectives in Ethiopia.

The event also provided an opportunity to discuss key details with representatives of other African biosphere reserves, for example regarding the necessary legal framework or establishing an efficient administration. After the event, it was possible to present the landscape planning approach to a broader range of potential operators at a workshop as a further contribution towards capacity building for sustainable development.

First biosphere reserves in Ethiopia

These efforts contributed to the addition of the first two sites in Ethiopia to the world network of biosphere reserves by the International Coordinating Council of the UNESCO MAB programme (MAB-ICC) in 2010: Yayu and Kafa. Both reserves aim at conserving the coffee forest in their core areas and at advancing sustainable development in their region. Consequently, the prospects are good for the long-term survival of Coffea arabica in the wild.

In 2012, the forest of Sheka was recognised as the third Ethiopian biosphere reserve by UNESCO.

Establishing management structures, supporting smallholder farmers and promoting climate change mitigation

From 2012-2014, BfN supported a project of ECFF, MELCA and Ecopia in Yayu and Sheka Biosphere Reserves. Thereby, optimised biosphere reserve management integrated issues of nature conservation into sustainable use of non timber forest products (NTFPs), such as coffee, honey, herbs or medical plants. In addition, capacity building for local smallholder farmers was conducted to improve their business performance. The project aimed at: establishing and optimising management structures and preparatory work for management plans of the biosphere reserves, establishing cooperatives, designing business plans for producers of non timber forest products, creating storage and processing facilities for organic products from biosphere reserves, as well as their marketing through certification, labelling and optimised market access.

Moreover, BMU has funded a project on preserving wild coffee forests as carbon sinks within the International Climate Initiative (ICI). Spanning from 2009 to 2013, the project was carried out by NABU and Ethiopian organisations in the Kafa Biosphere Reserve. Subsequently, a project also carried out by NABU runs 2014-2017 on community-based protection concepts for the region of origin of the wild coffee.

Developing a biosphere reserve at Lake Tana

Despite the fact that the Lake Tana region is considered a key biodiversity area in the Eastern Afromontane and holds the northernmost occurrences of wild coffee, conservation efforts were weak so far. A high degree of human use, caused by the population growth, led to the degradation of valuable biological resources in many places. In 2010, the Lake Tana region was identified as potential biosphere reserve by national and international experts. This evaluation was backed with a comprehensive feasibility study by the Michael Succow Foundation in 2011. From 2012 to 2015, the Foundation coordinated the development of the Lake Tana Biosphere Reserve in cooperation with NABU and Ethiopian partners with funding from BMZ and BMU.

Ecotourism development in southwest Ethiopian biosphere reserves

The project running 2015-2017 aims at the conceptual development of community-based ecotourism in Sheka and Yayu Biosphere Reserves as well as in the potential Gambella Biosphere Reserve and its touristic linkage and joint marketing with the already touristically advanced Kafa Biosphere Reserve. Planned activities are the development, testing and marketing of tourism infrastructures and tourism products, the building of necessary capacities at the local population and the establishment of community-based management and governance structures. The project is implemented by Ecopia based in Addis Abeba.


Ethiopian Coffee Forest Forum (2007): Biodiversity Conservation and Poverty Reduction in Human-Transformed Landscapes in Ethiopia: Proceedings of an International Workshop, 3-5 October 2006, ECFF, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

BMU Referat N I 4 & Hedden-Dunkhorst, B. (2009): Biosphärenreservate zur Erhaltung von Wildkaffee in Äthiopien. BMU Umwelt 7-8.

zur Heide, F. (2012): Feasibility Study for a Lake Tana Biosphere Reserve. BfN-Skripten 317. Bonn: BfN.

BMU Referat N II 3 (2013): Schutz für den Wasserturm Afrikas. BMU Umwelt, Issue 2/2013, pp 12-15.

Project information

Project period: From 2006

Programme: Research and development project within the Environmental Research Plan "International cooperation for nature conservation"

Country: Ethiopia

Project partners: Environment and Coffee Forest Forum (ECFF) - Dr. Tadesse Woldemariam Gole; MELCA-Ethiopia - Befekadu Refera; Ecopia - Dr. Mitslal Kifleyesus-Matschie; Michael Succow Foundation - Friedrich zur Heide (at GFA since 2014), Renée Moreaux and Nina Seifert; Institute of Biodiversity Conservation (IBC) - Dr. Girma Balcha; University of Bonn Center for Development Research (ZEF) - Dr. Manfred Denich and Dr. Franz Gatzweiler; NABU - Svane Bender-Kaphengst, Bianca Schlegel and Dr. Ellen Kalmbach

Project management at BfN

Section I 2.3 International Nature Conservation
Contact: Dr. Bettina Hedden-Dunkhorst

Last Change: 01/04/2020