One of the aims of the branch office is to support its member organisations operating in the area, both directly and through the facilitation of partnership programmes. In addition, by establishing a resource centre, the branch office aims to play a vital role in providing up-to-date information on natural resources and the environment in the region in English, Amarigna and Afaan Oromo to various organizations that include civil society, government, higher learning, research institutions and the general public. The office also facilitates the promotion of sustainable eco-tourism in the area and plays a major role in improving the local tourism economy to alleviate the direct pressure on scarce natural resources.
Support to Member Organisations
Providing support to member organisations being one of the aims of the branch office, it is always ready to provide assistance to the several Horn of Africa Regional Environment Network (HoA-REN) member organisations operating in the Rift Valley. This support can be in the form of creating a platform for linking member organisations with international agencies working in the area on natural resource management in terms of bringing them together to discuss future potential developments and collaborations in the area. HoA-REC and several HoA-REN member organisations have been a member of the Central Rift Valley working group (CRV wg), a forum that meets once every two month to inform and discuss each other of their activities, projects and advocacy activities that can be carried jointly. Until recently these meetings were held in Addis, but from now on they will be held in the Ziway branch office once every two months.
The Branch Office is currently collecting as much information as possible from various sources, so that this material can be made available within the office. To date most of the publications are published in English, but the aim is to translate a substantial number of publications into Amarigna and Afaan Oromo over the next few months. The resource centre is home to interesting materials on various issues ranging from research undertaken in the Rift Valley area to policy briefs as well as books on co-management of natural resources and community-based tourism training materials. Currently, these items cannot be taken outside of the office, however those interested in these works are free to come in, browse and read through them in our office.
The East African Rift Valley, located in Eastern Africa, covers just over 2% of the continent and spreads over seven countries (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, and Uganda). A total of 48.8% of the valley is found in Ethiopia, covering 28.3 % of the country. The East African Rift Valley consists of a group of independent interior basins, extending from Djibouti in the north to Tanzania in the south, nearly half of them existing in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Rift Valley Lakes Basin (RVLB) is the Ethiopian section of the central lakes basin and also one amongst the 12 basins found in Ethiopia. The basin is administratively shared between Oromia and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples (SNNP) Regional States.
The Central Rift Valley (CRV) is a sub-basin within the RVLB and is comprised of lakes Ziway, Abijata and Langano and three major rivers called Bulbula, Meki and Katar. Lake Shala is geographically also situated in this area, but does not form part of the basin in hydrological sense. The CRV is located 150 km southwest of the capital Addis Ababa, between 38°00’-39°30’ E and 7°00’-8°30’ N and has an estimated area of about 1 million ha. The population is estimated to be about 1.5 million people but is increasing rapidly with an above average country population growth rate of 3%. Currently the CRV area is faced with major challenges in addressing the issues of proper land and water management as competition and unsustainable use degrade these resources. The problems are interrelated and include poverty, lack of employment opportunities, deforestation (charcoal, land clearing), intrusion of people in National Parks (i.e. Abijata Shala Lakes National Park), overgrazing, low agricultural productivity, groundwater of low drinking quality, over-fishing of lakes and even industrial expansion. Because of the fact that the CRV is a closed basin, relatively minor interventions can far reaching impacts.
The proposed Lake Ziway Community Conservation Area (LZCCA) is found within the Oromia Regional State in the Arsi and East Showa zones. The LZCCA comprises three islands, namely, Tullu Guddo, Gelila, and Debre Sina, as well as the Lake shore. Tullu Guddo is located in Ziway-Dugda District in Arsi whereas Gelila and Debre Sina are under the administrative structure of Adamitulu-Jido-Kombolcha District in East Shawa. Specifically, the LZCCA comprises two peasant associations called Bashira-Caffa in Arsi and Bocessa in East Shawa.
The proposed LZCCA has high biodiversity and tourism potential based on the assessment. Specifically, the LZCCA islands offer a unique landscape for wildlife found nowhere else in Ethiopia. In addition to the biodiversity richness, the LZCCA is also home to historic monasteries that have been built by the inhabitants who are predominantly Orthodox Christian, reflecting the cultural richness of the local communities. The populations living on the isolated islands in the LZCCA speak the Zay language that belonged to the Semitic language family and restricted only in the islands only. It has been noted that the Zay language is among one of the threatened languages in Ethiopia given its distinctive origin and rarity.
The Centre and Network believe strongly in following the approach of economic diversification. To this end, one of our focus areas is eco-tourism development. HoA-REC works closely with the Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Alliance (ESTA) and the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society (EWNHS, also a member of HoA-REN) and several other indigenous organisations and supports the development of three community conservation areas.
As part of our eco-tourism programme, HoA-REC also works on marketing and promotion of the area and recently partnered with ESTA and National Geographic Society to produce a high-quality Map Guide of the Central and Southern Rift Valley in 2011- only the second of its kind in Africa. Recognizing the strong potential of the area for eco-tourism development as well as the strong link between conservation and eco-tourism, the branch office aims to promote this type of tourism to the area by providing tourists with information and maps of the places of interest. The office will also market tourism products such as souvenirs and postcards through its branch office.
The “Ring of Lakes” Tourism Route
As evidenced by its diverse landscapes and eco-systems, the Rift Valley and its surrounding mountain ranges have enormous tourism potential which, if developed sustainably, can be one of the ways in which to diversify the area's economy. The central approach in the “Ring of Lakes” eco-tourism programme, led by ESTA and EWNHS and supported by HoA-REC, is the establishment of Community Conservation Areas. This is essentially a new model and category of land-use in Ethiopia, recently designated by the local Land Use Bureau. This approach simultaneously stimulates income generation as well as the conservation of natural resources. After an initial assessment of the Central Rift Valley, three areas where selected for the establishment of CCAs based on several criteria, the most important one being marketability. ESTA and its partners strongly believe that the interventions need to be market-based in order to achieve sustainability. The three CCAs that will be developed in the first phase of this initiative are:
- Tullu Guddo Island on Lake Ziway,
- Lepis area in Arsi Negele woreda, and
- An area on the eastern shore of Lake Langano.