By Jemal Abdu
In the evergreen area of Shebe-Belete Gera in the Jimma Zone of the Oromia Region, which is located 394km from the capital Addis Abeba, live 19,618 households whose life is unthinkable in separation with the forest they reside in. These people used to live there inheriting their gere, to mean boundary, from their ancestors. In the 122,611ha forest, live households that are members of the 124 WaBuBs, the Oromiffa abbreviation for the forest management association established in the Belete Gera area.
Through these WaBuBs, the forest dwellers commit themselves to protecting the forest environment. So, to remember their commitment, they always recite their seven pledges whenever they start and finish their regular meetings.
The seven pledges are being a WaBub member and complying to its laws, protecting the forest and producing forest coffee, respecting wild animals and their respective habitat, conserving river banks and not cutting grasses along rivers, protecting water bodies and not disposing waste into the rivers and streams, not using agrochemicals in and around forest coffee and not mixing garden or plantation coffee with forest coffee.
Living in this forest and complying with the seven pledges of their associations, these forest dwellers produce forest coffee, which is certified by the Rain Forest Alliance and sell to the Zone’s Oromia Forest and Wildlife Enterprise (OFWE) at better than the market price, which in turn brings a premium value after export revenues are collected.
“The Ethiopian forest proclamation forbids people from living inside forests,” says Mohammed Said, Jimma Zone OFWE forest administration head. “But in reality, many live in forests, making their homes there and farming the land.”
So in order to create harmony between the two, the implementation of the Participatory Forest Management (PFM) came into effect which resulted in the involvement of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) as a nongovernmental organization.
“The customary way of protecting forests like fencing, keeping guards and putting checkpoints did not protect the forest from destruction but the new PFM did,” says Mohammed.
The forest in the Belete Gera area is also endowed with the area’s precious gift to the world that the residents do not want to perish – coffee. Therefore, they get into the forest to collect the naturally grown forest coffee, also depleting the dense forest of 122,611ha.
In October 2003, the project called Certified Forest Coffee Production and Promotion Project or Forest Coffee Certification Project (FCCP) started with the help of JICA, which began by forming the first WaBub in a local place, Meti, with a membership of only 46 households, which slowly grew to 56 and reached 140, according to the Chairman of the Meti WaBuB, Hussein Abdullah. The farmers in the WaBub collect the coffee it yields and sell it to their respective cooperatives, which are seven in the target place.
The cooperatives buy the coffee from the farmers with an addition of two Birr or three Birr from the market price. One of the farmers and a member of the Meti WaBuB is Mustafa Abajihad, a father of five. He owns a land of one-hectare forest, out of which one third is coffee.
“As the coffee is in the forest, the yield is not as significant – I get three quintals to five quintals of coffee from my place,” he says.
The coffee produced from this forest used to be of low quality and was only used for home consumption and nearby local markets before the coming of the project in 2003, according to Kituma Jaleta, PFM-FCCP coordinator of JICA at Belete Gera.
“They used to dry the coffee cherries on land mixed with dust and other impurities, the picking was not even with the mixed collection of the ripe and unripe cherries, and they used to keep the beans with cow dung, which significantly affects the quality of the coffee they produce,” added Kituma.
Then after taking trainings through their WaBuBs, they improved their coffee quality and they promised to keep the forest they live in untouched, getting a premium value to the coffee they produce after it is sold in the foreign markets. Since then, they have been reciting their seven pledges.
With the operation of the WaBuBs, a system called Internal Control System (ICS) was put into effect with each WaBuB evaluating its members’ performance in protecting the forest under their control. The ICS, with 3,662 member households makes sure that the members complied with the seven pledges they always recite whenever they meet and report to the OFWE.
As the maintenance of the seven pledges is the source of their premium income, the dwellers there strive in keeping an eye on the forest and its animals and biodiversity. This is why the buyers in the West and the Far East look at the mark of certificate by Rainforest Alliance and pay the premium values.
“The coffee we produced was sold for no more than 50 Br and 60 Br for a bag of 17kg (of dried berries) before the coming of the project. Now, with the project, we are earning 400 Br for each,” says Mustafa.
Last year Mustafa sold six quintals of premium coffee, for which he was paid 1,890 Br on top of the original selling price. The chairman of the Meti WaBuB, Hussein, has got a hectare and half forest coffee under his mentorship from which he produces 15qt to 20qt a year. Last year, he sold 15,000 Br worth of premium coffee, for which he was later paid additional 2,000 Br as a premium payment.
The premium payment, according to Mustafa, is used for the cleaning of the land where the coffee grows, the preparation of drying beds and for some homestead expenses. He complains that the money was not enough, and that he would be getting double that amount if he could cut the trees in the forest and sell the wood.
“They have promised us to create opportunities to use older trees in the forest and make some money out of it to support our living,” says Mustafa.
The farmers there protect the forest from destruction and no one can expand their possession in the forest from what they already have in hand.
“Now the problem is that we have married children and they could not acquire new possessions in the forest except living in their families’ places,” he says. “This is a burden for the residents.”
Now only in the Meti WaBuB, there are 40 new households that have been created through marriage; they have erected their own cottages in the same compound as their parents, according to the Chairman.
The market chain for the forest coffee in the area is different from the other market structures of coffee marketing in the country. The coffee that the WaBuB farmers collect is directly sold to their respective cooperatives or the unions and then the coffee is sold to the OFWE, which in turn sells the coffee to the international coffee and brings back the premiums paid.
The farmers in the area started getting premium payment five years ago following certification by the Rainforest Alliance. The Alliance inspects the area every year to renew the certification.
“The farmers know the benefits of the forest better than any other person and they are also aware of the effects it will have when they cut the trees,” says Mohammed. “But they cut the trees in order to sustain their lives.”
This is why the premium value is paid for the coffee they produce so as to be compensation for the income they could have gained through the sale of forest products according to Mohammed.
The first JICA project that was finalised in March 2012 paid 2.8 million Br of premium to the members of the seven cooperatives. In the first round, the farmers were paid 1.1 million Br. Then they were paid 788,938 Br and 970,005 Br, respectively, in the second and the third rounds. But the fourth and the fifth rounds have yet to be paid which came to the disappointment of the farmers.
“The money that comes through the premium takes much time and we have to wait a year to get the payment of the coffee we sold,” says Mustafa.
The time taken for the disbursement of the coffee premium is because of the process in the exportation of the coffee and the return of the premium, according to Mohammed.
“But the fourth round payment was delayed because of the low quality of the coffee exported,” says Mohammed. “But now we have received the payment and it will be disbursed with the fifth round payment.”
When the first JICA project in the area was completed in March 2012, the second round began in July 2014 and it will last until December 2019- for five and half years.
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