For Man and Nature – Creation of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve at Ethiopia’s Lake Tana

Over the next four years, together with Germany’s Nature Conservation Alliance (Naturschutzbund Deutschland; NABU), the Michael Succow Foundation, in close cooperation with the Ethiopian government, will be working toward establishing a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve around Ethiopia’s Lake Tana.


The entire area covers 5,000 square kilometers, including about 3,000 square kilometers of lake area. It is the source region of the Blue Nile and represents an area of international importance in regard to its biodiversity as well as its cultural heritage. Intensive farming, heavy land degradation, irrigation projects and hydropower plants pose an increasing threat to the so-called “Riviera of Ethiopia” with its impressive waterfalls. The Biosphere Reserve is expected to further the protection of the remaining pristine natural areas, conservation of the region’s cultural heritage, and creation of long-term revenue sources for the local population.


Lake Tana, Africa’s highest-elevation lake and the largest lake in Ethiopia, represents the most important African wintering area for the Common Crane and numerous other water birds and passerines. The region is home to hippopotamus, crocodiles, monitors, mountain python, and no less than 15 endemic species of fish found nowhere else in the world. On many of the lake’s 37 islands, Ethiopian-orthodox monasteries and churches can be found. Around them, the last remnants of the so-called “church forests”, viewed as sacred sites by the local population, have been preserved. These forests, with more than 100 tree species, also represent the northernmost occurrence of wild coffee in Ethiopia, the homeland of coffee. Human intervention in this sensitive ecosystem has created an ever-increasing pressure on the environment. Already, almost half of the local population lives in abject poverty and is forced to overuse its natural surroundings.


In preparation for the project, The Michael Succow Foundation conducted a feasibility study to test the general conditions for the establishment of a biosphere reserve in the Lake Tana region. The study examined the ecological, socio-cultural and institutional framework conditions in the Tana region. It engaged relevant local actors in an active discussion of the concept of a biosphere reserve and developed guidelines for regional development.


It is our long-term goal to preserve the unique nature of this region and to create new revenue sources for the local population through eco-tourism in the Biosphere Reserve as well as the sales of regional products. By conserving large wetlands, the project furthermore contributes to global climate protection.


The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung; BMZ) supports this project through special assets from the “Energy and Climate Fund.”




Project coordination:

Ellen Kalmbach, email: ellen.kalmbach(at)