Feasibility Study for a Biosphere Reserve at Lake Tana

The concept of biosphere reserves as instruments of sustainable regional development and integrated nature conservation in Ethiopia is increasingly gaining importance, as illustrated by the recognition of the country’s first two Biosphere Reserves, Kafa and Yayu, by the UNESCO in 2010. Ethiopia boasts a large number of valuable ecosystems and areas of high biodiversity that are worthy of protection. However, due to a lack of sustainable land use concepts these areas are severely impacted by degradation of their natural resources.


The wetlands around Lake Tana are home to a large number of endangered migratory and several endemic bird species, whose habitats are threatened by development for irrigation farming and intensive livestock grazing. In addition, centuries of deforestation have led to the destruction of all but small remnants of the primary forests, which include the last stands of wild coffee. Erosion and heavy use of fertilisers have led to heavy sedimentation and eutrophication in Lake Tana, negatively impacting the local fisheries. The old cultural landscape around Lake Tana is characterised by ancient monasteries and island churches, which, along with the Nile Falls and the lake itself, serve as a magnet for international tourists. The high potential for eco-tourism, the traditional land use methods, and the interests of Ethiopian stakeholders offer a valid starting point for the development of a biosphere reserve in the Lake Tana region.


The Michael Succow Foundation conducted a feasibility study to examine the framework conditions for a biosphere reserve in the Lake Tana region. The study examined the ecological, socio-cultural, and institutional parameters of the Lake Tana region, actively discussed the concept of a biosphere reserve with relevant local parties, and developed guidelines for regional development. In doing so, the study payed close attention to the requirements and the potential of the individual sectors (agriculture, fishery, forestry, biodiversity, nature conservation, water and energy management) and their respective roles in a biosphere reserve.


During two extended field seasons, the opportunities and goals of a biosphere reserve were demonstrated and discussed on location. In co-operation with our Ethiopian partners, this aimed at developing a better understanding of sustainable development of the study area. The resulting risks and opportunities will be estimated and discussed, in order to develop a shared vision for the natural environment of Lake Tana. The study was supported by four diploma and/or masters theses in the fields of landscape ecology and geography, and included co-operation with our Ethiopian colleagues.


A further component of the project dealt with the conceptualisation of a competency network for education about sustainability and nature conservation in Ethiopia. To achieve this, relevant actors were brought together with the Ethiopian representatives of the UNESCO Man and Biosphere (MAB) programme in a special workshop. The workshop’s goals were to establish a better organised network of national experts, to strengthen the MAB programme through education and research, and to make a scientific as well as an organisational contribution to the development of a Biosphere Reserve at Lake Tana, and to the country of Ethiopia as a whole.


The project was supported by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN), with funds from the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU).

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