If you take care of the land, it will take care of you, says Tsefaye Kidane, a 40-year-old coffee farmer from the Kafa Biosphere Reserve, a protected area in southwest Ethiopia that is also regarded as the birthplace of wild Arabica coffee.
Kidane’s farm is more than a mile off the main road, accessible only by foot along a winding, narrow path that meanders through the hills and is just wide enough for a motorbike or bicycle to get goods to market. When he took over the farm from his father, Kidane said the soil quality was poor and crops erratic, their irregularity exacerbated by the ravages of climate change and decades of land degradation.
However, with support from the World Bank’s Sustainable Land Management Program (SLMP), Kidane has turned the situation around. He has addressed soil erosion with a host of measures, including terracing the steep landscape, building bunds and composting, along with soil conservation. “Before doing the soil and water conservation activities the land was unable to produce even grass for fodder” he explains, holding his youngest daughter on his lap.
Kidane is one of the one billion people globally who live in areas affected by deforestation, soil erosion, and decreasing productivity. Taking care of the land and preserving biodiversity – through healthy soil, reliable water access and pollinators – is vital for providing livelihoods for rural populations, particularly during times of economic shock like that caused by the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Healthy ecosystems have been shown to provide a lifeline to the poorest. The Poverty Environment Network project that collects income data of forest adjacent communities from 24 countries, estimates that environmental income (most of it from the forest) represents 28 percent of total income of these households (Angelsen et al, 2014).
“Nurturing the land is similar to nurturing and bringing up a child to be self-sufficient,” says Kidane. “After getting all of this care, the child grows up and takes care of you, right? And similarly, if you take care of the land well, it will let you achieve what you have set out to do.”
The modest home where Kidane first lived with his wife, along with the homestead’s cattle, has been replaced by a bigger, ochre-painted brick house with a solid aluminum roof and a welcoming porch, where neighboring farmers join him and his wife to share lessons and seeds. The cattle are no longer sheltered in the house with his family, his elder children are in school and benefiting from the proceeds from crops of coffee, avocado, banana, mango and a local vegetable called sweetsop, along with annuals like maize and beans. Coffee is his biggest income earner, with a yield of about 20-30 quintals (2-3 ton) per hectare, up from the original 5-6 quintals (0.5-0.6 ton) per hectare when he first started farming.
Wildlife’s return to the once barren land
Kidane has also expanded from three beehives to around 20, all of which are neatly stacked in rows at the top of a hilly area on his farm, covered with a thatch roof to protect them from the elements. These pollinators not only produce high-grade honey, but are helpful for native plants, birds and wild animals that have returned to the once barren land. Black and white colobus monkeys are also back in the trees and there are small antelope called dik-dik and other wild animals in the forests. Kidane has also noticed more snakes, which are in turn eating pests such as rodents.
“The wildlife that has been under the threat of extinction are now coming back as we plant shade trees on the coffee farm,” said Kidane, whose farm is in the so-called transitional zone of the Kafa Biosphere Reserve where farming and economic development are allowed. In the core zone, no human activity is permitted except for the monitoring and research of natural habitats. Kafa’s core zone is teeming with native plants as well as being a precious repository for thousands of strains of coffee. The Kafa Biosphere Reserve is recognized under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere reserve program to promote sustainable development, integrated science and conservation of biological and cultural diversity through partnerships between people and nature.
Almost half of the Ethiopian highlands (which make up about 45 percent of the country’s total land area) are significantly eroded, and declining natural resource and agricultural productivity annually costs Ethiopia 2-3 percent of agricultural GDP.
Sustainable land management
Under SLMP, about 900,000 hectares of land are now being sustainably managed, benefitting some 2.5 million people. This work has led to better water access, less soil erosion, higher yields, diversified sources of income and improved food security – resulting in more resilient livelihoods and boosting the country’s human capital. Making the land more productive and conserving soil and water has also improved biodiversity overall. This decade-long effort made Ethiopia a leader in sustainable land management.
Despite these gains, one in five people in Ethiopia still live on degraded lands. In June 2019, the World Bank approved the Climate Action through Landscape Management (CALM) project that will provide results-based financing over five years to the Government of Ethiopia to increase the adoption of sustainable land management practices and expand access to secure land tenure in rural areas. This program will increase the area of the Ethiopian highlands that is covered by the SLM Program from 7 percent to about 20 percent of the total that is significantly degraded. Moreover, the payment for results approach can be rapidly scaled up to reach the remaining degraded areas. World Bank support for sustainable land management also includes the creation of green corridors – strips of continuous native vegetation that link restored landscapes with biodiversity hotspots and help restore watersheds where biodiversity can flourish. These corridors will also support livelihoods, including beekeeping which is a growing industry in Ethiopia. Another element of the program includes payment for environmental services and exploring how to reward farmers specifically for preserving biodiversity.
New global framework for nature
Efforts such as these in rural Ethiopia come as nature is under unprecedented pressure worldwide. Never before have so many plants and animals been on the brink of destruction — nearly one million species (out of an estimated 8 million) risk extinction. The next year is a crucial one for biodiversity as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) comes up with a new framework that will set targets for conserving, sustainably using and sharing the benefit from biodiversity, replacing those set a decade ago in Aichi, Japan.
The World Bank’s work on biodiversity is informing negotiations for the new global framework. For example, innovative economic modelling work will estimate the global economic impacts of the loss in ecosystem services and identify the most effective policy solutions for a healthier economy in a healthier planet. The World Bank is also preparing a position paper on biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people, which will be released later this year. But good intentions require finance, and a joint paper with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) will include recommendations for unlocking private finance for biodiversity and the greening of the financial system. This work will aim to inform the CBD targets and the new framework.
“The new framework and targets provide a once in a generation opportunity to get a new global deal for nature that shifts how we produce food, build infrastructure and protect the planet from climate change. These farmers in Ethiopia and elsewhere show what is possible when you find a balance between nature and livelihoods,” said Karin Kemper, the World Bank’s Global Director for Environment, Natural Resources and the Blue Economy.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of the close relationship between human and planetary health. It is estimated that 75 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic (those transferred from animals to humans). Pathogens thrive where there are changes in the environment, like deforestation, and when natural ecosystems are under stress from human activity and climate change, and in the consumption of exotic wildlife products many of which are traded illegally or farmed in stressed conditions.
“During the recovery from the coronavirus, nature will play a key role to ensure human health and planetary health are better aligned. Nature is not a luxury but is the foundation of economic stability, poverty reduction and shared prosperity,” said Kemper.
Financing Biodiversity for a global public good
The World Bank has actively financed biodiversity since the adoption of the CBD in 1992, recognizing that developing countries hold much of the world’s biodiversity and that biologically diverse ecosystems are a global public good. Our most recent portfolio review shows that World Bank projects support the creation and consolidation of more than 116 million hectares of Marine and Coastal Protected Areas, along with 10 million hectares of Terrestrial Protected Areas, and over 300 protected habitats, biological buffer zones and reserves. In recent years, World Bank funding to core conservation has increasingly harnessed the institution’s convening power and global presence resulting in the creation and management of global partnerships such as the Amazon Sustainable Landscapes Program, which uses a multi-country approach to conservation in the Amazon basin, and the Global Wildlife Program, which tackles the illegal trade in plant and animal species by providing technical assistance and fostering global cooperation between origin, transit and destination countries.
Ensuring women’s inclusion
Given the complex links between people and land, the World Bank has adopted a more integrated landscape approach that simultaneously works on improving the resilience of both ecosystems and livelihoods, and across productive (agriculture) ecosystems and protected area ecosystems. There is also a strong focus on making sure that women are included, like Ethiopian farmer Tadelech Kebede, who was widowed more than two decades ago and benefited from the SLMP. Kebede’s land is gravity-defyingly steep but with terracing she has planted impressive arabica coffee and banana crops. She also has a thriving vegetable garden, brimming with spinach, peppers, root crops and other vegetables, along with flowering indigenous plants that have won her praise in the local newspaper as a model farmer.
‘My land is food for me’
But Kebede remembers hungrier times when the land was severely degraded, animals were scarce, and it was hard to eke a living for her and her eight children. When it rained, she watched her soil sweep away into the gully, taking crops with it. But over time, Kebede built up the bunds, planting local “desho” grass (Pennisetum pedicellatum) to stabilize the land. She then planted cardamom, coffee and fruits, along with sugar cane and “false” banana (Ensete ventricosum) which is used to make local bread. She has adjusted her planting calendar because of climate change and now grows a bigger variety of crops. “If one fails, I can rely on another one,” she said. This crop diversification has brought rewards – the children who still live at home are in school while one is in teacher training college and another works at the local electricity company.
“Life is good, I have my own house. I have a living room, I have a bedroom, and a kitchen,” said Kebede. “My land is food for me, my land is money for me.