Course:FRST370/2021/Coffee forest in Yirgacheffee region——how community forest management works in Ethiopia

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Abstract and Keywords


Community forest management (CFM) is increasingly considered as a potentially effective way of maintaining forests, especially in the Global South. [1]And its the core value of is participatory forest management with the effort from both community and the government. There has been a new forest legislation on CFM in the Southern Region of Ethiopia in 2012. [1]As the birthplace of coffee arabica, Ethiopia is of great importance and reputation in coffee industry around the world. The management and market of coffee plantation in Yirgacheffee region provides us with a great insight into the land and forest management in Ethiopia. This case study presents how community forest management works in Yirgacheffee region of southern Ethiopia, which mainly includes stands of wild Coffea arabica, with the assessment of different stakeholders in coffee plantation, and tenure arrangement in Ethiopia's community forests. Furthermore, it also intends to create supportive conditions for the conservation of the wild coffee. [1]


Community forest management, coffee forest, participatory forest management, Yirgacheffee, Ethiopia

General Description

Location, geography and climate

Yirgachceffe woreda is one of the six rural districts in Gedeo Zone, in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region of Ethiopia. It is located between 6°09ʹ and 6°32ʹ N and 38°08ʹ and 38°32 E, with the annual rainfall ranges between 1200 and 1800 mm. The districts' geography and climate support a widespread practice of agroforestry. The vegetation cover includes diverse trees and shrubs, along with perennial crops such as coffee. [2]Forest in the southwest of Ethiopia covers 56% of the country's forest cover.

Context of Community Forest in Ethiopia

  • CFM was introduced into Ethiopia in the mid-1990s under various donor supported initiatives.
  • Forest cover has fallen to 15.7% today from 40% two centuries ago in Ethiopia.
  • Gedeo people have lived in this area for as long as anyone can remember. They have access to local forests.

Participatory Forest Management (PFM)

Ethiopia Coffee Map

Participatory Forest Management (PFM) is the project promoted by FAO and supervised by the state. It initially was designed to preserve "undeveloped" forests in Ethiopia. [3]

  • Allow sustainable use of the resources from the forests
  • Encourage forest preservation by local users
  • Return use or usufruct rights to the communities who lost them to the state in the past. [4]


Small households control individual forest plots where they can grow coffee and spices, keep bees, collect wood and liana, annual crops, etc. And they also exploit deeper to demarcate denser forests as state forests. [5] They contribute their coffee products to coffee cooperatives.

Coffee in Yirgacheffee Region


Coffee is a time-honoured tradition and culture symbol in Ethiopia. It is common to grow coffee in a semi-forest system, in which natural forest is modified with slashing of weeds and bushes, and this has been maintained indigenously by the Gedeo people for centuries. In the Yirgacheffe region, coffee is the main source of income and a way of life, and growers prefer to follow traditional cultivation practices rather than utilizing chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. [6]Smallholder coffee producer groups are organised based on principles of cooperative societies, which is voluntary and open to all individual farmers. The flavour of 100% Arabica coffee in Yirgacheffe is soft, with distinctive floral tones, and 70% of the beans will be exported around the world. Coffee produced by small-scale farmers is supplied to cooperatives in Yirgacheffee.

The coffee produced in Yirgacheffee is organic with high-quality because:

  • The principles of agroforestry are an indigenous practice at the core of Gedeo farmers' traditional way.
  • Argo-forestry in coffee forest could preserves biodiversity, has better soil management, is less water intensive and contributes to climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration.

The process of coffee bean in Yirgacheffee: Red coffee cherry collection-process cherries in washed or dry processing-secondary processing (sorting, polishing, and packaging)-export coffee-dividend distribution. [7]

Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (YCFCU)

Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperatives Union Operation Area Map

YCFCU covers 28 cooperatives in total, with over 45,096 farmers supporting over 350,000 Family members, [7]aiming to promote and support the sustainable development of coffee supply to the coffee market in order to maximize financial returns to cooperatives involved, and in turn enhancing the living standards of coffee farmers. [7]

It consists of coffee development & quality control department, marketing & sale department, finance department, planing & programming department etc.

Contribution of YCFCU

  • Promote the continuous development of coffee supply and markets in Yirgacheffe region
  • Economically empower coffee farmers and provide tools and training (Teach knowledge such as required standards to deliver the best coffee that meets International standardsthrough empowerment drives, meetings and workshops). [7]
  • Act as creditors with an effective traceability system allows tracing back to micro-region of origin
  • Help to register all cooperatives under Fairtrade Certification and other certification Programs

Any smallholder farmer is welcomed to join the cooperative societies, and the union is democratic organisation run by members, who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions with equal voting rights.

Tenure arrangements and bundle of rights

Customary Forest Ownership and Land Tenure history in Ethiopia

  • Before the Derg military regime in 1974, the ownership was diverse and defined as customary forest ownership.
  • In 1974, the Military regime nationalized all lands in Ethiopia. All forests were recognized as state property which under the custody of the state. The customary use rights, which has been enforced by local institutions for more than 100 years, before the nationalization of lands, were denied. Proclamations and legal provisions opened access to state forests for investors and business organizations, depriving the rights and autonomy of local communities as former users, [5]alienated indigenous people from their forests while causing competition and rivalry for forest resources. However, the customary tenure system was still practiced by the local community and indigenous groups. [8]
  • In 1995, the proclamation of the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia laid the base for the decentralization of land policies and administration. The regional states were established by law, having their own constitutions, and decentralized powers to determine their own land policy and administration.
  • In 2004, the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional state proclaimed its forest law, the Forest Management, Development and Utilization Law. This proclamation recognized two types of forest land ownership: natural forest areas as state owned forest (village level government administration structure); and private forest established by individuals and community groups.
  • In 2007, the Forest Development, Conservation and Utilization Policy was enforced as a landmark that acknowledged the significance of community participation in forest conservation and local livelihood improvement.

Bundle of Rights and Responsibilities

  • According to the Forest Development, Conservation and Utilization policy in 2007, natural forest resources owned and managed by the government as state-owned forest that can be developed on concession shall be transferred to the local people on concession, so that they can protect and use them.
  • Production on public forests once in the form of a concession system for state-owned and private commercial firms now favor a community-based cooperative system for their exploitation. [9]Communities have the responsibility for forest management with support from government and projects. The ownership is government with community stewardship rights. In detail, communities need to prove that they are fulfilling the management plans developed between communities and the local governmentand and protecting the wild coffee stands.
Bundle of rights
Rights to access Communities and coffee farmers and government
Withdrawal/Use Coffee farmers as smallholders can harvest coffee
Exclusion Forest management groups in the community regularly patrol to prevent incursions
Management Community-based cooperative management
Alienation Rights State holds the ownership, and give community stewardship
Duration For coffee plantation and harvest, there is no liscence with time limitation
Bequeathed right Smallholders
Extinguishability Government

Administrative arrangements

Regulatory regime governance

The absence of a strong forest policy, an inefficient institutional system in forest resource conservation and population increase before the participatory forest management had contributed to the extensive deforestation of forest resources. Over the past decades, the government of Ethiopia changed its forest conservation policy from centralized top-down approach to community-based forest conservation approach with the objective of ensuring sustainable forest management and livelihood improvement of local community, referring to the Forest Development, Conservation and Utilization Policy in 2007.

Governance structure of coffee

The Governance Structure of YCFCU

Affected Stakeholders

Coffee Berry Picking

Coffee farmers

Indigenous coffee farmers as forest user groups who obtain coffee products to sell to get incomes and maintain their lives. Coffee contributes the most of farmers' income.

Coffee and trees are like 'sons and daughters' for local farmers, especially in Yirgacheffee. There is a deep belief between coffee and them.

Local (Yirgacheffee) communities

Their livelihoods highly depend on the harvest, process, and market price of coffee. Most of them hold customary land rights in the forest they live in. They contribute their coffee collected to Yirgacheffee coffee cooperatives.

Interested Stakeholders

Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (YCFCU)

  • YCFCU covers 28 cooperatives in total, with more than 45,000 farmers involved in, aiming to maximize financial returns to cooperatives involved, and in turn enhancing the living standards of coffee farmers. [7]
  • Any smallholder farmer is welcomed to join the cooperative societies because the union is a democratic organization run by members, who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions with equal voting rights.

Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change(MEFCC)

  • Develop and revise forest sector policies, strategies, proclamations, regulations and guidelines.
  • Promote and distribute improved stove technologies.
  • Represent the country in forest related international forum.

Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU)

  • NABU is registered as an international NGO in Ethiopia, with core topics working on forestation and management, wetland management, sustainable regional development for livelihood improvement, and capacity building at the government and community level.

Ministry of Agriculture

  • According to PFM in Ethiopia, the government is responsible for providing legal, technical, and material support. The Ministry of Agriculture in Ethiopia is in charge of the conservation, development, and utilization of forest resources at the federal level.

Agricultural Investment Land Management Agency

  • Identify and prepare, in collaboration with regional states, 'ready to invest' land free of tenure conflicts for private investors.

Coffee importers from other countries

  • Importers do not participate in the farming and harvesting of coffee.
  • Importers work with ocean lines, transport providers, and warehouses to negotiate fair prices and timely service, and they usually have their warehouses to store processed coffee beans.

Assessment of Relative Power (Power Analysis)

As a traditional activity, coffee farming and production in Yirgacheffee has been well-organized and will continuously contribute to ensuring farmers’ income due to the support from Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (YCFCU).

Although the land tenure is described by the government, concrete policies of land and forestland use remain a blank area, the state, who took the forests from the local communities in the 1880s, has never had the resources to manage them effectively. In most cases they have been 'open access' areas, subject to deforestation for cultivation and degradation through small-scale wood harvesting.[4]

YCFCU has been granted privileges by the Ethiopian coffee and Tea Authority to bypass the central coffee auction and export directly to foreign customers. However, YCFCU does not have the authority to manage the land where coffee is grown.

Other NGOs consider more about biodiversity and conservation, and they have relatively higher powers to run conservation strategies.

Coffee tree
Power Analysis
Power Stakeholders Power Stakeholders
High importance, low influence Coffee farmers whose livelihoods highly depend on coffee High power, low interest Coffee Certification Organizations
High importance, high influence Agricultural Investment Land Management Agency High power, high interest MEFCC, YCFCA

Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Trade

Low importance, low influence Coffee lovers around the world who consume Yirgacheffee coffee Low power, low interest Coffee companies and corporations such as Starbucks that purchase for Yirgacheffee coffee beans.
Low importance, high influence NGOs (NABU, FAO),

Coffee Marketing Cooperatives

Low power, high interest Coffee farmers whose livelihoods depend on coffee



  • The formation of multi-stakeholder forums (MSFs) in collaboration with international donors and civil society organizations is a good way to conserve the region's forests with the participation of local communities. [10]Correspondingly, the government can effectively mobilize resources, enforce conservation rules and help achieve the goals of the MSF.
  • There have been some successful good governance in Ethiopian community forestry to positively and involve diverse groups of stakeholders with varied interests, capacities, and power relations in the decision-making process to achieve the sustainable management of communal forests. [10] Implementing PFM in a Sustainable Land Management strategy has been shown to be effective and successful.
  • There are coffee productivity packages being carried out in Yirgacheffe like mulching, pruning, composting to boost yields, which also help improve the physical properties of soil and control moisture loss during the dry season.[11]
  • Devolution of forest management show improved efficiency in the management of forest resources by forest users.
  • Coffee cooperatives offer much higher pricing and other benefits, such as dividends and infrastructure development, for Yirgacheffee smallholders.

Present and Future Threats and Challenges

  • There is a payment delay for their coffee production by their cooperatives after they deliver their products for three or four months. This all has negative bearings on the economic performance of smallholders.
  • There is lack of transparency in cooperatives and these cooperatives do not follow up the production process of the coffee product; in most cases cooperative meet smallholder to only to buy the red cherries. As the result, smallholders are forced to sell their products to private buyers at lower prices for on time payment. Smallholder farmers, in turn, bear the brunt of market downturns and ecological challenges, and even in good years their share of the final price is small and tends to diminish even further.
  • Local communities strongly rely on forest resources for income and livelihoods raises, so it is quite urgent to provide them with more alternative livelihoods, such as coffee-based tourism that can be promoted in the future.
    • Coffee Certification process in Ethiopia should be more inclusive and favour local socioeconomic cohesion as well as helping farmers in their quest of autonomy and formal rights to the forest land they rely on.
  • The prevalent use of top-down approaches in decision-making processes with regards to the use and management of forest resources constrains the active participation of stakeholders.
  • The price of coffee fluctuate cyclically on world markets. In some periods, what paid to coffee farmers can not even cover the cost of production.
  • Members in the cooperation still lack information about criteria for fair-trade and other cetification programs. [6]


  • Economical: Facing poverty issues, the price of coffee red cherries is very low (about 0.65 USD/KG), which is still insufficient to sustain their livelihood as compared to the international prices, thus effort is needed for cooperation societies to fight for more benefits to smallholders. The aim of the Yirgacheffee Coffee Farmers' Cooperative Union should be ensuring that coffee farmers who are involved in community forests can survive the "coffee crisis" smoothly so that they can benefit from coffee planting for a long time, and therefore improve the livelihoods of poor farmers.
  • Social: To ensure farmers living around in community forest areas whose livelihoods rely on the resources of forest have their customary ownership of the land, government in Ethiopia still needs to better enhance participatory forest management and give statutory land rights to smallholders as well as ensuring farmers as individuals to be paid equally in the coffee value chain.
  • Enviromental: Although the past loss of forest cover wasn't caused by coffee plantation, due to increasing demand for coffee, farmers are now encouraged by government to enhance the yield of coffee by thinning the forest cover, thus the pattern of coffee forest could be studied and applied more with regard to forest conservation in Ethiopia.


As a non-timber product in the forest in Yirgacheffee region, cultivation and picking of coffee before packing and exporting is contributed by smallholders rather than private companies. Local cooperatives manage to transport, help certificate coffee and negotiate prices. As we can see, from the side of coffee, it is a joint effort made in the community. From the perspective of conservation and forest degradation, although CFM will take longer to validate the effects, for now it appears that CFM can help achieve multiple impacts on sustainable forest management and wild coffee conservation. [1] And through the improvement of land policy in Ethiopia, communities and smallholders now are getting acknowledgment of their customary rights on land. Coffee farmers' traditional knowledge of the local ecology, forest landscape, species and coffee diversity, is based on a culture of kinship, taboos and rituals. This culture-based management results in shared community values concerning the landscape and the resources, which also require a long time to be actually taken into considerations in terms of community forest management.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Wood, A., Tolera, M., Snell, M., O’Hara, P., & Hailu, A. (2019). "Community forest management (CFM) in south-west Ethiopia: Maintaining forests, biodiversity and carbon stocks to support wild coffee conservation". Global Environmental Change. 59: 101980. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2019.101980.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. Adane, A. & Bewket. W., (2021) Effects of quality coffee production on smallholders’ adaptation to climate change in Yirgacheffe, Southern Ethiopia. International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management, 16:2, 205-221, DOI: 10.1080/1747423X.2021.1893844
  3. Winberg, E. (2011). Participatory forest management in Ethiopia, practices and experiences. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Subregional Office for Eastern Africa.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Hwang, B., Adrian. W., Snell, M., Fantaye, D., Belayneh, E.,& Mekuria, B. (2020), "Monitoring Wild Coffee Using Ground Survey and Satellite Observation in Community-Managed Forest in Sheko, South-West Ethiopia" Sustainability 12, 22: 9409.
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  6. 6.0 6.1 Mengistu, M. M. (2017). Assessing The Performances of Coffee Marketing Cooperatives in Yirgacheffee Woreda, Gedeo Zone, Snnprs, Ethiopia. International Journal of Information, Business and Management, 9(3), 92-101.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 "Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperate Union". Retrieved November 30, 2021.
  8. Wakjira, T. & Gole, T., (2007). Customary forest tenure in southwest Ethiopia. Forests, Trees and Livelihoods. 17. doi: 10.1080/14728028.2007.9752607.
  9. Walle, Y. & Diptimayee N., (2020), How Can Participatory Forest Management Cooperatives be Successful in Forest Resources Conservation? An Evidence From Ethiopia, Journal of Sustainable Forestry, 39:7, 655-673, DOI: 10.1080/10549811.2019.1684950
  10. 10.0 10.1 Yami, M., Barletti, J. P. S., & Larson, A. M. (2021). "Can multi-stakeholder forums influence good governance in communal forest management? Lessons from two case studies in Ethiopia". International Forestry Review. 23(1): 24–42. doi:10.1505/146554821833466040.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. Kassahun, T. (2021). Adoption of garden coffee production technology package by smallholder farmers in Ethiopia. African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development, 21 (05), 17989–18004.