The project is located in the Tembien Highlands in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. The dryland ecosystems in the Ethiopian highlands are vulnerable to degradation because of their high livestock densities and steep slopes. On top of this, climate change and the loss of forest cover bring increased risk of drought. Drought and periods of social instability lead to increased deforestation and land degradation.
The project is tackling these issues through a combination of grazing exclusion and planting indigenous trees within the exclosures. This sequesters a significant amount of carbon within the exclosures and also provides many ecosystem and social benefits. So far, the project has invested heavily in percolation ponds in the higher slopes to improve water access, made significant payments to communities and provided for food support during the Tigray War (2020-2022). Lastly, the project promotes lasting benefits through training in sustainable land management and improved production of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) such as frankincense and honey.
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The Earthly Rating
The Earthly rating is the industry-first holistic project assessment. This rating system consists three diameters of the project: carbon restoration, biodiversity, and human resource. Earthly researchers analyze 106 data points, aggregating information across the three vital pillars of carbon, biodiversity and people. Projects in Earthly's marketplace all exceed a minimum score of 5/10.
tonnes of CO2 sequestered since the start of the project
increase in the number of tree species
paid to participants since the start of the project
Project Area: Through Time
The Tembien Highlands (and many high elevation areas) acutely suffer from the effects of climate change and land degradation. At the same time, many of these ecosystems support some of the world’s poorest people, and their degradation only exacerbates the problem. In the Tembien highlands in particular, poverty is magnified by the effects of lingering social and political instability, most recently the Tigray War of 2020-2022. The EthioTrees Project is addressing these issues and more, rooted in an intimate understanding of the social context and priorities of the communities.
Good for Earth
The project generates several benefits for biodiversity. First, the project only plants indigenous/endemic tree species. In the first five year monitoring period, the tree species richness increased by 41% on average (from 70 to 99 species) and the total number of trees in the exclosures increased by 155%. Similarly, the Shannon index in the exclosures (a measure of biodiversity) increased by 20% over the first five years.
The project benefits water retention through the build-up of soil organic matter, leading to more groundwater and spring water availability and a decrease in runoff and erosion. The project is also increasing the amount of fodder available for livestock by allowing grass in the enclosures to be cut and fed to animals, reducing degradation of the surrounding grassland.
Lastly, the project improves connectivity between biodiverse and culturally significant church forests. Nearly half of the project areas are close to Orthodox church forests and unique rock churches, crucial oases for biodiversity in an increasingly degraded region.
Positive for People
The sale of carbon credits has been instrumental in improving the incomes of local community members, with 60% of the revenue from the sale of credits invested in the communities. This is particularly important in times of acute crises. When the Tigray War broke out in November 2020 (eventually leading to thousands of deaths over the next two years), it led to a severe famine in the region. The farmers enrolled in EthioTrees were able to use the money from the sale of credits to buy food, and 18 communities within the villages set up systems to allocate food and funds to particularly vulnerable people. This was only possible through the EthioTrees organisational structure, which negotiated with banks and community leaders to enable the delivery of money to communities. The project has then developed a direct cash-for-food support, with nearly 30,000 families benefiting from the program.
In addition to cash support, the project also invests in boosting production of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) such as frankincense and honey. The project also invests in improving water availability through the construction of percolation ponds on high slopes.
Lastly, the project is focused on underrepresented groups. 40% of project participants are women and the project focuses on supporting vulnerable groups such as those with HIV and those that have suffered from sexual violence.
EthioTrees is a combined Belgian-Ethiopian non-profit responsible for running the project in the Tembien Highlands. The Belgian organization began as a result of a Ph.D. project from one of the founders investigating the drivers of land degradation and climate change in Africa. The Ethiopian branch includes a local coordinator and several farmers from the region. The project also incorporates a scientific advisory board and regular communication with local communities.