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Community participation makes for better forest governance in Ethiopia – interview with Tefera Mengistu

Tefera Mengistu works for the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Commission in Ethiopia and the United Nations Development Programme. He held the position  of Assistant Professor in Restoration Ecology and Ecophysiology at Hawassa University, Ethiopia (2001-2013) and was the technical lead for developing the Ten Years National Forest Sector Development Program (2016-2018) and the Green Legacy Initiative of Ethiopia (2019-2020).

This interview is part of the ‘Forest Governance Unpacked’ series with key experts in forest governance. It was developed in the context of the NewGo! project which aims to provide scientific knowledge on lessons learned from initiatives related to zero deforestation, forest restoration, and sustainable forest finance. The project sets the ground for the EFI Governance Programme.

Tell us a bit about who you are. 

Photo: Tefera Mengistu (left) supervising the nursery activities (SNNPR, Lemo) to support afforestation efforts. Credit: Mesfine.

I was born in northern Ethiopia, where the land is severely degraded due to agricultural expansion. The challenge of land degradation and productivity loss has persisted in the area throughout all my childhood. Curbing this challenge has become my vision since then. My research and development efforts have circled around restoration of degraded lands. I have provided many years of service within Ethiopia’s forestry education and development institutions. Currently, I am managing forestry projects that focus on afforestation and reforestation of degraded Ethiopian highlands.

What is forest governance?

Forest Governance is a set of formal and informal rules about the management, use and conservation of forest resources.

Why is governance needed?

Forest governance helps maintain vertical and horizontal consistency in the management and use of forests resources.

The vertical and horizontal structures decide how rules, laws, and norms, are passed. The vertical structure refers to when this achieved from above, i.e. the in the government system with local or  national authorities. The horizontal structure is more direct and informal than the vertical, and involves the customary laws and principles that connect the different social strata at the local level, for example local cultural actors such as religious leaders and clan leaders.

What makes governance “good”?

Forest governance can be considered “good” when it is responsive to the economic and environmental needs of the society.

Photo: A multi-functional landscape should be anchored with enhanced participation of the young generation. People of all classes including the young generation participated in the Green Legacy Initiative of Ethiopia, (Addis Ababa). Credit: Green Legacy Technical Team.

If a forest governance is geared towards sustainable forest management, it will provide an avenue to create a multi-functional forest, delivering functions ranging from supporting local livelihoods to ecosystem services. Forest governance should function by providing a greater role to the community, technicians and market actors. There should be stronger mechanisms to assess and monitor progress of forest governance for future adaptive learning. Good forest governance is needed most in areas where forests support subsistence livelihoods, and confronted with competing demands and instability.

What are the challenges with governance today in the light of what you said in the previous question?

Forest governance is challenged by resource competition, poor regulatory systems, and weak institutions, which make it difficult to govern effectively and efficiently.

What are the positive changes that you have seen happening in the context of forest governance?

There is a strong and positive interest to enhance local participation in governance. The more we make forest management participatory and transparent, the better it is. Conversely, if governance is detached from the community, it will pose a serious danger.

Please provide an example of a success story/case study.

A participatory forest management (PFM) system has been implemented in Ethiopia for the last decade. It is a forest governance system that was introduced as a complementary mechanism to safeguard forests, while respecting traditional users and including them in the governance process. The forests where PFM is being implemented in Ethiopia, have valuable economic, ecological, and cultural features. The best example that illustrates this concept is a project we conducted in the Bale Eco Region, 250 km south of the capital, Addis Ababa, where Farm Africa have worked jointly together with other partners. This project has led to substantial progress in improving forest health and supporting local livelihoods with emissions reduction gain and carbon credits. This proves the fact that forest governance depends on the local arrangement, and requires  using best management practices that fit the local socio-economic and environmental conditions.

Partial view of the Bale Forest in Dodola. Credit: Tefera Mengistu

The Harenna Forest in the Bale National Park. Credit: Vincent Munier






Read the other interviews of the ‘Forest Governance Unpacked’ series:

Community participation makes for better forest governance in Ethiopia – interview with Tefera Mengistu

Stakeholder participation in forest governance is key for sustainable forest management – interview with Eva Müller

Curbing forest loss with and for the local communities in Uganda – interview with Rose Kobusinge

Involving and remunerating local communities to save the Amazon – Interview with Johan Wittkamper


Visit the NewGo! project website

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