Wajib: An Alternative Forest Conservation Approach for Ethiopia's Forests

Abdurahiman Kubsa[1], Asfaw Mariame, Girma Amante, Hans-J Lipp and Tsegaye Tadesse


Government-controlled forest conservation initiatives began in Ethiopia in the mid 1970s. These initiatives have resulted in the establishment of different types of protected areas such as state-owned Forest Priority Areas (FPAs), National Parks, Game Reserves, Sanctuaries and Controlled Hunting Areas. By definition, all FPAs are state-owned, settlement inside the FPA is prohibited, and only the government may harvest the forest products.

Adaba-Dodola FPA is one of the 58 FPAs that have been under the management of the forest administration. This afro-montane forest had an area of 140,000 ha in 1982. Currently it covers only 53,000 ha. This is where Ethiopia is exercising participatory forest management (PFM) with the objective of achieving sustainable forest management through community empowerment.

The Integrated Forest Management Project has developed a feasible forest conservation approach locally recognized as WAJIB. WAJIB in local language stands for Waldayaa Jiraatoota Bosonaa, which means Forest Dwellers’ Association. The main principle of WAJIB is to grant exclusive user rights to the recognised members of the association. Between June 2000 and September 2002, 19 WAJIB groups comprising 507 members in three villages have concluded the Forest Block Allocation Contract with the forest administration for a total forest area of 7526 ha. The process for the establishment of 20 more WAJIB groups in some 9000 ha is under way and will be completed by mid 2003.

The WAJIB group has legitimate rights to participatory decision-making and management. It is left entirely to WAJIB to decide on the management of the respective forest block. For this purpose, WAJIB normally passes internal regulations.

1. Introduction and background

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia covers a total of 1.1 million km2 and comprises nine National Regional States, out of which Oromiya is the largest. The administrative structure of the Region is further sub-divided into administrative zones, districts and village administration.

The forest area in Ethiopia, which at one time might have occupied as much as 35% of the country, has now been reduced to about 2.3% (EFAP, 1994). Although 58 Forest Priority Areas covering 2.3 million ha have been designated to conserve the forest of the country, interwoven factors are contributing to deforestation of some 163,000 ha annually (Reusing, 1998). By definition, all FPAs are state-owned, settlement inside the FPAs is prohibited, and only the government may harvest the forest products. Therefore, since the establishment of the aforementioned protected areas the government conservation agencies has assumed sole responsibility of management and decision-making. According to the constitution of Ethiopia, land is the property of the state and people of Ethiopia.

Adaba-Dodola FPA is one of the 58 FPAs that have been under the management of the forest administration. This afro-montane forest had an area of 140,000 hectares in 1982. Currently it covers 53,000 hectares only. Rapid deforestation and environmental degradation has forced the forest administration to seek an alternative to government controlled forest conservation approach.

Adaba-Dodola forest is characterized by beautiful scenery and rich biodiversity. The area offers high tourism potential attracting more than 500 international and domestic tourists per annum[2]. Ecologically the area is important for watershed protection and soil conservation supporting lives of millions of people. It is in here where Ethiopia is exercising participatory forest management (PFM) with the objective of achieving sustainable forest management through community empowerment.

The Integrated Forest Management Project (IFMP)[3] has developed a feasible forest conservation approach locally recognized as WAJIB. WAJIB in local language stands for Waldayaa Jiraatoota Bosonaa means Forest Dwellers Association.

2. Main features of WAJIB

The main principle of WAJIB is granting exclusive user rights to the recognised members of WAJIB. For this purpose the FPA in a given village is subdivided into forest blocks. Each block is managed by organized user group of not more than 30 members based on the calculation of a carrying capacity of 12 ha per homestead (Uncovsky, 1998). The maximum number of 30 members has proved to be the most appropriate in terms of manageability and positive impact with respect to forest conservation as compared to total village community that always comprises more than 30 homesteads.

In order to provide a legally binding agreement a Forest Block Allocation Contract (FBAC) has been elaborated by the project, which contains the rights and duties of the forest administration and the forest dwellers. The FBAC is the result of intensive consultations between the stakeholders and official approval by the Oromiya Regional Council in February 2000.

According to the FBAC the rights of the WAJIB include settlement in the forest block and utilisation of forest products for both home consumption and for sale. The duties of WAJIB include restricting settlements to the carrying capacity of the forest block, maintaining initial tree cover, paying forest rent and regulating access. The annual forest rent is about one USD per ha and is only payable for the area not covered by forest in order to encourage the WAJIB to increase the forest cover. The respective village administration retains 40% of the rent in order to also support the non-WAJIB members of the community, which can be considered a benefit-sharing mechanism between the government and the community members living adjacent to the FPA.

The FBAC states that the forest administration also has the rights of access to visit the forest blocks at any time, and to call and attend WAJIB members' meetings. The duties of the forest administration include providing technical and organisational assistance, conducting annual tree cover assessment and settlement census, defending the interests of WAJIB against others and providing assistance in cases of litigation. The FBAC also contains sanctions in case of failure on the side of the WAJIB to comply with the agreement. The sanctions are imposed in case of significant reduction of tree cover, non-payment of rent, the presence of excess settlement and admitting non-WAJIB members.

The first WAJIB group was established in June 2000. Between June 2000 and September 2002 nineteen WAJIB groups comprising 507 members in three villages have concluded the FBAC with the forest administration for a total of 7526 ha. The process for the establishment of 20 more WAJIB groups in some 9000 hectares is under way and will be completed by mid 2003. Procedures have been agreed to establish many more WAJIB groups in the FPA as well as to replicate WAJIB elsewhere in Oromiya.

2.1. WAJIB strategies

WAJIB has three main strategies:

1. Regulating access- forest dwellers are granted exclusive user rights with clearly defined and agreed on rights and duties.

2. Reducing pressure- the non-forest dwellers are encouraged to plant trees for various purposes around their homesteads.

3. Making trees profitable- possibilities for non-wood income from forest are assessed and implementation of options encouraged.

2.2. Objectives of WAJIB

The short-term objectives of WAJIB include:

- to ensure improved forest conservation;
- to empower local people in forest management.

The long-term objectives of WAJIB include:

- to increase forest cover in WAJIB managed areas;
- to institutionalize WAJIB as an alternative and complimentary forest conservation approach;
- to ensure sustainability of ecological benefits of the forest for generations to come; and
- to improve livelihoods of the forest dwellers through sustainable forest management.

2.3. Unique characteristics of WAJIB

So far WAJIB demonstrates the following unique characteristics in the context of Adaba-Dodola FPA:

3. Decision-making

3.1 Participatory Decision-Making

The village community plays significant role to accept the approach and delineate the peripheral forest boundary where WAJIB groups enter into agreement with the forest administration. Such collective decision-making is crucial for the establishment of successful WAJIB groups and the future relationship of the WAJIB and non-WAJIB groups. Administratively the WAJIB and non-WAJIB groups belong to the same village administration and most of the time they belong to the same clan or ethnic group. Therefore, so far there is no as such violent conflict between the two groups as a result of the WAJIB approach. Rather the benefits to the non-WAJIB groups is also increasing through revenue sharing between the village and the forest administration and income to house holds and village from ecotourism.

Selection of the WAJIB members is the responsibility of democratically elected founding members among those living in the forest. The founding members have the duty to set eligibility criteria considering the number of people currently living in the forest and the carrying capacity of the forest block. The list of the eligible members is submitted to the village administration and forest administration.

The WAJIB group has legitimate right to decision-making. It is left entirely to the WAJIB to decide on the management of the respective forest block. For this purpose, WAJIB normally passes internal regulations. It is observed that the indigenous knowledge and commitment of the WAJIB group, supplemented by technical and organizational assistance by the professionals is resulting in the sustainable forest management. The prime incentive to the forest dwellers to do so is the recognition of settlement in the FPA by the forest administration. Equally important is the right to utilise the forest and forestland in order to reach a decent standard of living.

Structurally each WAJIB group comprises general assembly of WAJIB members, democratically elected WAJIB leaders and ad-hoc committee(s) that elected as deemed necessary. Internal regulations define the duties and responsibilities of the general assembly and WAJIB leaders. Based on the provisions of the internal regulations and the FBAC, each group contributes to participatory decision-making and management. The WAJIB leaders are accountable for the decision that they make and are as transparent as they can. The implementation of decision is equally important for the WAJIB members.

It has been observed that strong decision-making procedures and implementation of decisions are crucial for WAJIB coherence. Unless strong working relations exist between the members the success of the approach faces difficulties. Therefore, the leaders and general assembly fulfill the collective responsibilities of WAJIB groups through active decision-making and implementation of decisions. The WAJIB leaders and the general assembly also involve professionals in decision-making. Nevertheless, such involvement is a kind of consultation as the professionals play the role of advisors. This has advantages of learning from each other and increasing trust between the two parties.

3.2. Regulating Access and utilization of forest resource

The first measure taken up by the WAJIB group is ensuring regulating access. Patrolling the forest block by the members and the respective family members is the effective mechanism used by the WAJIB members to regulate access. Some WAJIB groups have started dividing the forest block into sub-blocks with the objective of reducing distances that the members have to travel for patrolling. Absence from patrolling leads to penalty as stipulated in the internal regulations of the respective WAJIB.

Apart from regulating access, the WAJIB members have developed sense of feeling more responsibility about forest resource utilization. Consensus has been reached among WAJIB members to abandon wasteful forest utilization.

The members put the following measures in place towards wise forest utilization:

3.3. Organisational matters

Number of important organizational matters concerns WAJIB members. Among these annual forest rent payment, participating in annual tree cover assessment, attending regular meetings of WAJIB members, collecting income and implementing credit and savings scheme.

It is the right of WAJIB to decide on the amount of money that each member contributes for rent payment. WAJIB members also elect individuals that assist tree cover assessment among their members.

Recently, the forest dwellers and non-forest dwellers are increasingly participating in ecotourism initiatives. They have developed a kind of internal regulations on providing horses for mountain trekking.

4. Impacts of WAJIB

Significant impacts have been noticed on rural livelihoods and forest conservation after WAJIB.

4.1. On rural livelihoods

The first WAJIB groups have started to see the fruits of their forest conservation efforts. They sell forest products such as grass and wood. The WAJIB members obtain some direct and indirect benefits. They do possess more healthy livestock and they have closer and recognised access to wood products, which they also sell at the local markets. As the result of WAJIB the price of wood products is expected to increase gradually. A follow-up of market study is expected to proof this fact. Nevertheless, this will particularly hold true after the whole FPA is placed under WAJIB management.

The forest dwellers are also gaining access to saving and credit schemes from the income that is generated from sells of grass and other forest products. In order to provide supplementary income opportunities eco-tourism is initiated and operating in the area. Furthermore, possibilities for trout fishing and trophy hunting (especially on the Mountain Nyala, Tragelaphus buxtoni) are currently being explored.

4.2. On forest conservation and management

In the nineteen forest blocks where WAJIB is operational the forest dwellers have demonstrated their capacity to manage and sustainably utilise the forest. As a result the potential of WAJIB as an alternative to the conventional forest conservation practices is proved, although not yet over a longer period of time. The impacts of WAJIB is physically visible. The following indicators are used to measure the tangibility of the impact:

Annual monitoring of changes is a means to reveal many of the above changes. The Tree Cover Assessment provides an overall index for the crown cover of different categories of vegetation in a given forest block. This ground cover is derived from the basal area converted according to pre determined factor percentages for each category. Assessments for seventeen forest blocks have revealed that there is an increment of 4.5% of forest cover so far. This is an overwhelming increase. The assessment is done with a sample rate of one spot/ha. (Asfaw Mariame, et al. 2001).

The positive progress and impact on forest conservation and management after WAJIB are tremendously contributing to attitudinal changes. Attitudinal changes from the perspectives of the foresters and the forest dwellers have shown tremendous improvement (Abdurahiman, 2001). The foresters no more consider themselves as the only caretakers for the survival of the forest. The technical and organisational assistances to the WAJIB groups are highly appreciated by the forest dwellers. Moreover the duties of the local foresters have shifted from plantation forestry to natural forest conservation, which is more sound for ecological reasons. The government authorities have also recognised the indigenous knowledge and capacities of the local people in conserving and managing the forest resources. Given the current situation the trust between the forest dwellers and the government is highly promising. The forest administration has become convinced on the commitment of the forest dwellers to manage the forest.

5. Institutionalization

There is increasing recognition that efforts in economic development, poverty alleviation, environmental protection and social equity cannot be successful in the absence of appropriate governance structures and processes (FAO, 2001). WAJIB is an independent entity with regard to forest conservation at grass root level. Each WAJIB group democratically elects WAJIB leaders that include Head, Deputy head and cashier. This main committee has the right to request the designation of other ad-hoc committees as deemed necessary.

WAJIB has obtained recognition by different government institutions. WAJIB groups obtain technical and organizational assistance from village administration, district administration, police, court and district Rural Land and Natural Resources Administration desk. The staff of District Rural Land and Natural Resources Administration is responsible to monitor performances of each WAJIB group.

At Regional level a PFM Unit has been established in Oromiya Rural Land and Natural Resources Administration Authority, the highest Regional government institution for forest conservation. This Unit has a responsibility to coordinate all PFM Projects, to follow-up developments of PFM, initiate replication of WAJIB in other forest areas and to initiate formulation of policy and legislation that strengthens WAJIB. Moreover, there is important work to be done by this Unit in advocating WAJIB within the authority and other sectors of the government.

To a great extent, the success of WAJIB depends on a persistent commitment of WAJIB groups, legal backing, and the technical and organizational assistances rendered to WAJIB groups by different government institutions. Strong support by such institutions means the strength of WAJIB and eventually improvement of forest conservation and rural livelihood.

6. Conclusion

In conclusion the WAJIB approach in the context of Adaba-Dodola FPA has proved the capacity and willingness of local community to actively participate in forest conservation. Moreover, the approach serves as a means to harmonize people and forestry through participatory decision-making and management leading to sustainable forest management.

Nevertheless, covering wider areas and different ecological zones by replicating the approach with necessary modification that suits social, ecological and cultural situation of other forests is perceived to be a proof for the effectiveness of the approach ultimately. One can certainly speak of the urgent need to promote PFM for success of forest conservation initiatives in Ethiopia. Otherwise, the current low forest cover of the nation would disappear.


Abdurahiman Kubsa. 2001. Back-stopping mission: Interim report-XI. IFMP, Dodola, Ethiopia.

Asafw Mariame, Baptist, R. and Tsegaye Tadesse. 2001. Forest user groups in the Bale Mountains, Ethiopia: II. Forest condition monitoring. Ethiopian Journal of Natural Resources. 3(1): 99-108.

EFAP. 1994. Ethiopian Forestry Action Program. Synopsis Report. Transitional Government of Ethiopia, Ministry of Natural Resources Development and Environmental Protection, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

FAO. 2001. State of the World's Forests. Rome.

Reusing, M. 1998. Monitoring of Forest Resources in Ethiopia. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Uncovsky, S. 1998. Model calculation of minimum forest area per household. IFMP, Dodola, Ethiopia.

[1] Participatory Forest Management Consultant, Box 185, Bishoftu, Ethiopia.
Email: gtz.ifmp@telecom.net.et
[2] For details see www.baletrek.com
[3] IFMP is a technical cooperation project of the governments of Ethiopia and Germany.