Center for the Restoration of Ethiopia’s Biodiversity
and Keystone Natural Resources
[Established on 10 July 2004]
Ethiopia: An ancient country with breathtaking landscapes
Ethiopia is an ancient country located in the horn of Africa (with border coordinates
of 2.9º S, 15.3º N; 32.7º W, and 48.3º E). Much of Ethiopia’s landscapes are mountainous
and diverse, with prevailing adequate rainfall and ideal temperature in most regions. These
conditions have created very good climatic and topographic settings for a great deal of
biological and cultural diversity. Unfortunately, population pressure (of both humans and
animals), land misuse, underdevelopment, and climate change, have led to unprecedented
land, water, soils and biodiversity degradation (Figure 1A, B).
Indigenous trees: Part of the tropical forest crises or victims of ignorance?
Like all other biological systems, native trees, shrubs, herbs and grasses are products
of millions’ years of continuous evolution. They are, therefore, well adapted to the specific
landscapes they inhabit.
Indigenous trees are wombs for the development of biodiversity and keystone natural
resources, including soils and water (Figure 2A). Unfortunately, and in serious contravention
of the principles of evolution, native trees have been subjected to damaging exploitations for
centuries and millennia, thus pushing these national, regional, and global heritages to the
brink of biological extinction.
The response to the loss of native trees has been to introduce exotic trees such as the
aggressive Eucalyptus spp. from Australia (Figure 2B), as well as the ill-adapted cypresses,
Tasmanian Blackwood, and pines from temperate regions (Figure 3). These measures have
partly been dictated by the unprecedented demand for and scarcity of fuel wood and timber,
as well as by ignorance on the propagation biology of indigenous trees. Some 130 years ago,
(about the time when Eucalyptus spp. were introduced) Ethiopians had no knowledge of
eucalypt tree’s possession of inhibitory chemicals, its powerful yet negative capacity for
depleting water and soil nutrients from the subsurface (Figure 2B). Nor did they know how to
propagate some of their fast-growing, nitrogen-fixing, and ‘evolution-tested’ multipurpose
acacias including Acacia abyssinica Hochst. ex Benth. (Fabaceae) and Faidherbia albida
(Del.) A. Chev. (Synonym: Acacia albida, Fabaceae).
Native trees: Urgency for restoration
Indigenous forests, shrubs (Figure 4), herbs, and grasses are wombs for biodiversity,
as well as ecosystem functions and services. They are critical for restoring water and soil,
hence determining the basic framework and diversity of life on a given landscape. We
therefore believe that there is urgent need to reverse the loss and degradation of indigenous
trees by restoring degraded landscapes through use of appropriate biological restoration
mechanisms (Figure 5A, B).
Restoration of indigenous trees is much more than just planting them - it is about re-
establishing (at a landscape scale) the lost vital connections and functions that native trees,
shrubs, herbs, and grasses used to provide for all forms of life, including humans and
honeybees (Figures 6A, B).
The benefits of restoring the functions of indigenous trees, shrubs, herbs and grasses
across degraded landscapes include biodiversity development (Figures 6A, B; 7A, B, C; 8),
improvement of water quality and quantity (Figure 9B), as well as increased development and
stabilization of the soil. Landscape restoration through use of native trees, shrubs, herbs, and
grasses will initiate and establish biodiversity hotspots, thereby restoring and maintaining
critical life support systems such as water and soils. It will have massive impacts on health
(e.g. provision of nutritious foods and medicinal plants), as well as sustained economic
welfare (e.g., biodiversity development, sustainable agriculture, and increased ecotourism
(Figures 10A, B; 11, 12). Landscape restoration helps mitigate the impacts of climate change
including increased likelihood of storms, floods, temperature, droughts, and famine.
However, it has to be remembered that the success of landscape restoration will be
seriously limited by increased population growth (of both humans and animals). More than
ever before, increased population pressure is creating havoc to Ethiopia’s environmental
wellbeing. This challenge needs to be addressed as earnestly and as quickly as possible
because: “Life cheapens in its own abundance”.
Establishment of the Center: Its raison d’être
Launched on an extremely degraded landscape of Tulu-Korma (Oromiya Region,
West Shewa Zone, Ejeré Wereda, 50-55 km west of Addis Ababa; 09º01.188' N and
038º21.570' E, with altitudinal range of 2,163-2,267 m) the Center for Indigenous Trees
Propagation and Biodiversity Development in Ethiopia is expected to address Ethiopia’s
critical environmental challenges through the application of research results generated during
the last 25 years. Specifically, the Center will serve as a model for the nation and the region
by: (1) establishing knowledge-intensive indigenous tree nursery; (2) restoring threatened and/or
endangered indigenous trees and plants of ethnobotanical significance; (3) re-instating keystone
natural resources (such as soils and water), biodiversity, and ecosystem functions; (4) originating
new knowledge on the mechanisms of biodiversity and natural resources restoration; (5)
transferring tree propagation techniques to the rural communities; and, (6) providing a
platform for Ph. D., M. Sc. and B. Sc. students of the Addis Ababa University aspiring to
conduct long-term field studies on plant biology, sociology or even on various appropriate
technologies, including solar energy technology, as well as African bee biology and technology.
Why the need for such a Center?
Research on the development of techniques for native tree propagation biology and
agroforestry has been pioneered in the former Department of Biology (now Faculty of Life
Sciences, Addis Ababa University) for over 25 years. Extensive results have been published in
reputed national and international science journals. A book entitled: Indigenous Trees of
Ethiopia: Biology, Uses and Propagation Techniques has been published in 1995. Also, a
second book entitled: A Selection of Ethiopia’s Indigenous Trees: Biology, Uses, and
Propagation Techniques has been published in 2010. These activities have won a number of
national and international awards, including that earned from the Stockholm-based
International Foundation for Science.
Unfortunately, most of the publications on indigenous trees research have remained
too technical to be interpreted by ordinary farmers or forest technicians. It is, therefore,
essential that these publications be simplified and applied in the selection, domestication,
propagation, and cultivation of native trees.
Currently, the Center for Indigenous Trees Propagation and Biodiversity
Development in Ethiopia is being accessed by Ph. D., M. Sc., and B. Sc. students of the
Addis Ababa University for use as a field experimental laboratory. We believe that engaging
University students in concrete environmental and developmental challenges of
contemporary Ethiopia is critical for the welfare of this and the coming generations. Given
the ongoing, pervasive, and catastrophic climate change, there is nothing more important and
urgent than establishing such a Center.
Restoration Bioassay: What is it?
Can the extent of restoration be measured? Yes, it can be measured at different levels.
One obvious way is to observe temporal variations in landscape dynamics (Figure 12A, B). It
can also be measured through monitoring restored nutrient elements in the soil, including
organic carbon, N, P, K, Mg, Ca, S, Fe, Mn, Zn, etc., as well as biodiversity changes (i.e.,
number of plant, wild animal, bird, insect, etc., species restored in the landscape), as well as
observing periodic changes in intensity and volume of stream and/or river discharges (Figure
9). At our Center, we have coined a phrase ‘Restoration Bioassay’ in which we asses
extent of restoration through use of coffee plants (Coffea arabica L.) (Figure 11). Coffee
plants are selected because of their sensitivity to direct electromagnetic radiation (i.e., are
photoinhibited, and therefore require shade from suitable indigenous trees such as Millettia
ferriginea, Croton macrostachyus, Cordia africana, Acacia abyssinica or Ficus vasta). They are
also highly sensitive to moisture and nutrient deficits in the soil, temperature differentials of the
air and the soil, as well as to soil micro-fauna and flora. On top of this, coffee’s contribution to
the economic development of Ethiopia is significant.
Figure 1 (A) Desertification on the making. Much of Ethiopia’s vast landscapes have been
deforested and deserted, leaving large numbers of watersheds bare and the corresponding rivers dry.
Two of the consequences are Ethiopia’s: (1) diminished capacity for global CO2 sequestration; and
(2) direct contribution to climate change by re-radiating solar heat into the atmosphere. Clearly,
Ethiopia’s primary preoccupation during the 21st
century must be to restore its extensively degraded
landscapes using ‘evolution-tested’ (and therefore resilient) indigenous trees, shrubs, herbs and
grasses. (B) The picturesque Wenchi Crater Lake and the surrounding mountain chain (ca 150 km
south-west of Addis Ababa), are rapidly advancing towards ecological point of no return, as humans
and domestic animals invade the mountain chain and lake’s coastal areas. To make the situation even
worse, more and more of the aggressive eucalypt trees (Figure 2B) have been planted and are
spreading around the Crater Lake system. Many scenic areas such as Wenchi Crater Lake, wetlands,
as well as highland and lowland forests of Ethiopia have disappeared following the same pattern of
invasion and destruction.
Figure 2. During the 21st century, when life-support systems will be increasingly
scarce, Ethiopia's new generation will have to choose between (A) water, biodiversity, fertile
soils, and hydropower or (B) Eucalypt stands devoid of water, biodiversity, fertile soils, and
hydropower. The dry, sterile, and biodiversity deprived area beneath a stand of eucalypt trees
is noticeable. Can Ethiopia ever dream of becoming a food secure nation given that its prime
farmlands, homesteads, watersheds, wetlands, and mountains are occupied (and continue to
get occupied!) by stands of eucalypt trees, which relentlessly coppice in tens, even after
Figure 3 (A.) Dead and dying young trees of the less adapted, exotic Cupressus lusitanica (Yeferenj-
tsid, Cupressaceae) from Birbirssa locality (West Shewa Zone, central-west Ethiopia). (B)
Dead Tasmanian Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon R. Br., Fabaceae) (left half of picture B)
and young, live Podocarpus falcatus trees (right half of picture B) from the Science Faculty
(now College of Natural Sciences) of the Addis Ababa University.
Figure 4. The resilient and drought tolerant shrub (Carissa spinarum (Forssk.) Vahl,
Apocynaceae), with its tantalizingly edible fruits (A); and the ladybird-laden Osyris
quadripartita Decn., Santalaceae (B) are only two of the numerous examples of shrubs that
are essential for biodiversity development. Scientists warn that one of nature’s amazing ‘fine
arts’ (the ladybirds in Figure 4B) are currently threatened due to man’s indiscriminate use of
Figure 5: (A) Podocarpus falcatus (Thunb.) Mirb. does poorly during seedling’s early phase
when planted in an open field where it receives full sunlight --- it is photoinhibited. Tree's poor
establishment performance in the field is therefore due to damage to the photosynthetic apparatus by
excess light, which is often exacerbated by water stress and soil’s poor nutrient status. The
phenomenon of photoinhibition in P. falcatus and its reversal through the provision of shade has been
tackled at the Centre for Indigenous Trees Propagation and Biodiversity Development in
Ethiopia through use of pioneer tree species such as Acacia abyssinica or other leguminous tree
species such as Millettia ferruginea Consequently, successful field establishment of P. falcatus
seedlings requires provision of shade, watering seedlings for at least 2-3 consecutive years, and
creation of nourishing soil conditions. During the course of its growth and development, the young P.
falcatus tree gradually musters resources and builds up layers of evergreen canopy in which large
proportions of its leaves are protected from photoinhibition by the canopy's external layer. Once
established, P. falcatus is a remarkably resilient, persistent, and benevolent tree, hence its justified
status as a keystone tree species. (B) A green, non-photoinhibited Podocarpus falcatus growing
‘happily’ along with Millettia ferruginia. M. ferruginea is a leguminous tree endemic to Ethiopia.
When planted on either side of P. falcatus seedlings, it provides the young tree with the much needed
nitrogen, while at the same time protecting it from the inhibitory effects of full sunlight. Forest
technicians in Ethiopia had been frustrated by the low percentage of P. falcatus seedlings
establishment in the field when these were grown under full sunlight conditions and on degraded sites.
We hope that this technique, developed over a period of seven years at our Center, will provide a
solution for successfully restoring P. falcatus in areas previously considered hostile to this resilient,
yet threatened, keystone tree species.
Figure 6: (A) A busy honeybee collecting pollen and nectar for making ‘its’ (actually
mankind’s!) honey from the flowers of wild Bidens pachyloma (Aseraceae). In Ethiopia, the flower
(or the plant) is commonly known as ‘Adey abeba’. Because the plant flowers about the beginning of
Ethiopia’s New Year, B. pachyloma’s flower (or that of B. prestinaria) has become an undeclared
national flower. In Ethiopia, new year starts on September 11 (when the heavy rainy season ends, the
sun ‘starts’ shining mildly but brightly, and the landscapes are typically green). (B) In addition to
collecting pollen and nectar for ‘their’ honey production, African honeybees (Apis mellifera scutellata
Lepeletier) are pollinators of important crops such as Guizotia abyssinica (L.f) Cassini (Asteraceae).
Locally known as ‘nug’, G. abyssinica is one of Ethiopia’s economically useful native oil crops.
‘Nug’ does well on marginal lands and is a very valuable honeybee flora. [Note: Various historical
and/or current pieces of evidence suggest that Ethiopia is probably Africa’s leading country in both
bee population and beekeeping tradition.]
Figure 7. Successful restoration of native trees such as Croton macrostachyus Hochst. ex
Del. (Euphorbiaceae), known commonly as 'rushfoil' (A, B, C), restores biodiversity, including birds
such as the handsome male specimen of African paradise-flycatcher (Terpsiphone batesi) (A), which
is perched on, and is looking at tree’s tantalizing fruits, (B). The Common Bulbul (Pycnonotus
tricolor) (C) is poised to grab ‘left-over’ fruits of C. machrostachyus. One important reason for why
C. macrostachyus is so widespread in Ethiopia (and also in other parts of tropical Africa) is because
of the critical role birds play in tree’s seed dispersal.
Figure 8: (A) Mushrooms are fungi, and are one of the most diversified and immensely
useful groups of organisms. The massive numbers of spores they produce, along with the
corresponding diverse dispersal mechanisms, have empowered fungi to be almost omnipresent in
propagule (spore) or non-propagule forms. Fungi are earth’s most efficient decomposers. They
breakdown dead bodies and organic materials and, in the process, get their energy and nourishment.
Had it not been for fungi, planet earth would have been littered by dead bodies allover places. Thanks
to the restoration efforts undertaken over the last seven years and, as a consequence, the availability of
organic matter and moisture, the once barren landscape has now regenerated various fungi
populations that are busy decomposing litter and other necromass. This breakdown activity of fungi
releases essential nutrient elements such as phosphorus, calcium, iron and nitrogen, thus creating
favorable conditions for further biodiversity development. (B) Thriving on a fungi-modified
environment is one of nature’s most spectacular ‘fireworks’ [Scadoxus multiflorus (Martyn) Raf.,
Figure 9. Restoring native trees, shrubs, herbs, and grasses over a degraded landscape
restores not only biodiversity, soils, and livelihood, but also the much needed water. The picture taken
in 2004 (left), and the one taken in 2009 (right) are of the same river (River Adama) crossing the
Center for Indigenous Trees Propagation and Biodiversity Development in Ethiopia, and partly
originating from the twin mountains of Tulu-Korma (central Ethiopia, some 50-55 km west of the
capital Addis Ababa). [Please, see Figure 12.]
Figure 10. Ethiopia’s degraded landscapes can potentially be restored not only for re-
establishing biodiversity, water and soils, but also for producing the much needed livelihoods such as
fruits, including guava (Psidium guajava L., Myrtaceae). (A) Guava plants with green fruits; (B)
Freshly harvested ripe guava fruits. These are the results of restoration efforts sustained over the last
seven years at the Center for Indigenous Trees and Biodiversity Development in Ethiopia. Guava
fruits are known for their high vitamin C content, diarrhea control, high dietary fiber content, as well
as for their capacity to reduce blood sugar levels. Also, flowers of guava are very good sources of
nectar and pollen, and are foraged voraciously by honeybees. In the process, not only good quality
honey is produced, but also very good guava fruits, thanks to nature’s most remarkable pollinators ---
honeybees (Figure 6A, B).
Figure 11. Coffee plants are: (1) sensitive to direct electromagnetic radiation coming from
the sun (i.e., require shade from suitable indigenous trees); (2) vulnerable to moisture and nutrient
deficits in the soil; (3) affected by temperature differentials of the air and the soil (require warmer
temperatures); and, (4) thrive in rich environments of soil micro-fauna and microorganisms. For
measuring extent of degraded landscape’s restoration, we use coffee (Coffea arabica L., Rubiaceae)
as an indicator plant. We have coined the phrase “restoration bioassay” to characterize the process.
(A) A four-year-old coffee plant that is in flower; (B) Ripe coffee berries on branches of the same
plant grown on a plot of land that has been restored for six years at the Center for Indigenous Trees
Propagation and Biodiversity Development in Ethiopia. Because coffee’s contribution to the
economic development of Ethiopia is significant, further studies along these lines are in progress at
Figure 12. Partial view of the Center for Indigenous Trees Propagation and Biodiversity
Development in Ethiopia, photographed 7.5 years ago (March, 2004) (A); and in September 2011
(B). The pictures were from approximately the same location, except for the seasonal and slight field
of view variations. Located right along the highway to western Ethiopia, and some 50-55 km west of
Addis Ababa (the capital city of Ethiopia), the Center is awakening interest about how large-scale
restoration of biodiversity, keystone natural resources (including water and soils), as well as
livelihoods might be achieved in Ethiopia and Africa. [Note: Location and elevation at the middle of
the degraded, forefront area in photograph (A) are 09º01.188' N; 038º21.566' E, and 2,176 m a.s.l,
Berhanu, I will work on the following items and send you asap.
• Founders profile
Legesse Negash (Professor of Plant Physiology)
Faculty of Biological Sciences
College of Natural Sciences
Addis Ababa University
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Tel. 251-911-21 68 75 (Mobile)
P. O. Box 322 39, Addis Abab, Ethiopia