Ethiopia’s Church Forests

Conservation of Ethiopia's Church Forests

A protective wall surrounds the Mekame Selam Kolala Meskel church’s forest in South Gonder, a region of northern Ethiopian. Photo by Kieran Dodds/Panos Pictures

Church Forests - The Opportunity and Importance

The ecology of Ethiopia is vastly understudied and also degrading rapidly due to human activities. Much of the natural landscape has been cleared for agriculture, with one notable exception: the sacred landscapes surrounding churches. These church forests comprise local as well as global “hotspots” as critical conservation areas for a large portion of Ethiopia’s remaining biodiversity. Vegetation surveys of church forests indicate that church forests house a large proportion of the endangered plant species of Ethiopia. Church forests provide important ecosystem services to local people, including freshwater, pollinators, honey, shade, and spiritual value. Preliminary estimates indicate that these last remaining forests could disappear in ten years’ time if nothing is done.

A Unique Partnership Formed to Conserve the Church Forests

In January 2009, the TREE Foundation forged a partnership with the Christian Orthodox clergy in Ethiopia to conserve their church forests. Those efforts were highlighted in a short film published by The New York Times as part of its award-winning Op-Docs (opinion documentary) series.

The work of independent filmmaker Jeremy Seifert, “What Makes a Church? A Tiny, Leafy Forest,” was published on the Times’ website on Dec. 3, 2019. The film was narrated by Dr. Alemayehu Wassie Eshete of Ethiopia, an active board member of TREE Foundation.  

Church Forest Conservation Goals

  1. To survey the biodiversity of insects in Ethiopian church forests, creating relatively inexpensive, replicable protocols that can be utilized by local children.
  2. To fund simple perimeter delineation (aka fences) thus preventing further shrinkage of church forests from human activities. 

Summary and Request for Your Help

Currently, the TREE Foundation’s work in Ethiopia is focused on measuring the shrinking forests and their biodiversity treasure-troves, as well as helping the local people reverse this critical loss which would essentially make it impossible for their children to survive. Please help Meg and the TREE Foundation in this mission to save the church forests of Ethiopia!