Ethiopia forests

Not even five percent of ​​Ethiopia is covered with forest nowadays. In many places, forests have been cleared to make room for growing food. Especially around the thousands of churches and monasteries, wooded islands remained. Abba Gebremariam, the lead monk of Taragedam monastery is committed to preserving them. 


Melkie Getachew climbs up around 15 meters into the broad, round crowns of the trees in the church forest of Taragedam. The 32-year-old harvests seeds for tree nurseries. He works for the development organization of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC-DICAC). The church has made it its task to protect and expand the church forests of Ethiopia. Bread for the World, a member of the WCC‘s Ecumenical Water Network, supports the project.

The church forests are not only the last refuge for hundreds of endangered plant and animal species, but also important water reservoirs for communities whose access to water is increasingly threatened by the changing climate. “Church forests also contribute to fresh air and preventing desertification,” stresses Abba Gebremariam, head of Taragedam monastery.

“Accompanying EOC-DICAC in protecting the church forest is an expression of our God-given duty to care for creation,” says Christoph Schneider-Yattara, representative of Bread for the World’s regional office in Addis Ababa. “We can learn from the communities living inside the church forests how to live in harmony with nature.”

Only wooded islands remain

At the beginning of the 20th century, 40 percent of Ethiopia was still covered with forest. Today it is less than five percent. In many places, forests have been cleared to make room for the cultivation of food for the rapidly growing population. Wooded islands remain around the churches and monasteries of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

The church forests have a long history. There are more than 35,000 churches in Ethiopia and more than 75 percent of them are surrounded by a forest. They are looked after and protected by the monasteries and parishes. In addition to their ecological function, they also have a spiritual and cultural function: the priests pray in the shade of the trees, the forest is seen as a sacred place. “The forest is like the cloth of the church, protecting it from any harm,” finds Abba Gebremariam.

“The church forests are places where we are praying for all the people in the world so that God brings God’s love for all, not only for the monks and only for Ethiopia,” adds Kifle Worku, DICAC regional manager. “Also, the high biodiversity provides a source of natural medicines for the people.”

Food three times a day

But the forests are threatened by wood thieves. Just a few years ago Melkie Getachew cut firewood himself in the church forest of Taragedam - out of poverty, like many people around here. When the monks caught him doing it, he was arrested for a few days. However, strict rules are not the only protection for the forest. The church also offers workshops to show people like Melkie Getachew how important the forest is for everyone's life.

“If the forest no longer existed, we would soon have a water problem. It is high time to protect the forest," knows Melkie Getachew today. He became a seed collector for the tree nurseries of the reforestation project and thus has an additional income. In addition, he learned about sustainable farming methods for his small farm and how to keep sheep.

Since then, Melkie Getachew, his wife Ageritu and their four children have been doing much better. "We used to eat only once a day," reports Melkie. “Today we can offer our children three meals.” While dinner is cooking on the fire, his eldest son drives the four sheep into the stable. Melkie has new plans for the coming year. He points to a small slope behind the house. "I would like to create a vegetable garden here in the next rainy season."

Ethiopia farmer

Just a few years ago Melkie Getachew cut firewood in the church forest of Taragedam - out of poverty, like many people around here. It was only through the workshops of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church that he learned that forests are important water reservoirs. He is now collecting seeds for tree nurseries, which earns him a steady income.