Progress towards Conservation of Wild Arabica Coffee in Ethiopia

The remnant forests of Ethiopia are important hotspots for biodiversity conservation. The most popular coffee species (Coffea arabica) originates from the a fromontane rainforests in the country. These forest ecosystems which harbor the only wild gene pools of this globally important crop plant are highly fragmented due to agricultural expansion and over exploitation. Photo:

A multi-disciplinary research project conducted from 2002 to 2009 by Ethiopian and German scientists ( revealed that the forest ecosystems with wild coffee plants, often called coffee forest, are very rich in plant species. The wild coffee populations also showed high genetic variability within a population and across populations found in different forest fragments. The wild coffee genes are by far more diverse than coffee plants cultivated anywhere in the world.

Remnant coffee forest at Yayu area

A cost-benefit analysis carried out in 2006-09 showed that the sustainable use of the coffee forests is the most beneficial land use option from the national point of view at discount rate of 5%. Moreover, coffee forests are the main sources of cash income for the local households being source of coffee and other non-timber forest products. It serves as a safety-net to overcome pressing financial and food shortages. Despite efforts made to conserve the coffee genetic resources, what has been achieved so far can hardly be satisfactory. This is mainly due to high opportunity costs and problems of equity with regards to access to and control over land and forest resources, which makes participation in conservation activities economically less attractive for local households. Changing conservation strategies from state-centered to community-based conservation alone can also not be a solution for the conservation problem of coffee forest if this happens in absence of meaningful economic incentives and devolution of decision making powers.

Economic incentives such as better output prices, access to credit, differential taxation systems and subsidization of inputs as well as improving returns to labor from particular activities may have a positive contribution to conservation if it targets coffee forest friendly activities. Otherwise, it can have adverse effects, for instance, if it is in favor of activities competing with coffee forest for land. Improving child education, reducing seasonal work force migrating to the area and family planning could serve some of the intervention to reduce labor supply degradation of coffee forest. Yet, having heterogeneity across households and locations, economic incentives per se may not secure sustainable conservation. It is vital to fill the gaps of economic incentives through institutional interventions, which are the central part of indirect incentives.

The results of our multi-disciplinary research project recommend the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve concept as the best approach to integrate the conservation of coffee forest and local development goals. The Environment and Coffee forest Forum (, a local NGO established to implement the research findings of COCE project, initiated the Yayu Coffee Forest Biosphere Reserve in 2006. Based on this The Government of Ethiopia has nominated the Yayu Coffee Forest Biosphere Reserve to UNESCO in September 2009.

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Work area: 
Social Policy
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