Study trip to the highlands of Ethiopia

All of us had heard about Ethiopia, none of us had ever visited the country at the Horn of Africa before.

The the Institute of International Forestry and Wood products at Technische Universität Dresden offered an interesting research project under the CHAINS framework, which was funded by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Goal of the project was the research of the role of eucalyptus production and its value chain for the rural population.

We, a team of four students from Tharandt, namely Tobias Krause (forestry), Jakob Scheler (geography), Estella Kinga (tropical forestry) and Florenz Klein (forestry) took on the mission at the Horn of Africa. In July 2016, we set out for the seven-week study trip to Gondar in order to collect data for our bachelor- and master theses. The city of Gondar (approx. 324,000 inhabitants) was once the capital of the old Ethiopian Empire and is located in the north of the country, about 800 km or one flight hour northwest from today’s capital Addis Ababa.

Like most parts of the country, the densely-forested highlands of Ethiopia were transferred into farmland and the woods degraded over the course of time. Without the eucalyptus plantations (Eucalyptus globulus), at least the landscape of the highlands would be almost completely woodless. People in Ethiopia still depend strongly on wood as a source of fuel and eucalyptus is the most common construction material for huts but the logs are also used as scaffold for the construction of bigger buildings. Together with six local students and three researchers from the University of Gondar we took a closer look on different aspects of Eucalyptus production and marketing. The topics our research focused on were the management of smallholders’ woodlots, social networks, gender equality and the calculation of form factors. We conducted interviews with the farmers and the inventories of the woodlots in three villages about 45 minutes out of Gondar. The farmers not only gave us insights on how they produce eucalyptus on their farms but also allowed us to experience Ethiopian culture first hand. We were greeted with great hospitality by the villagers who are very generous and often invited us for traditional food when interviewing them. The traditional meal, Injera, which are sour dough pancakes made from teff flour, was served with a variety of spicy sauces that made our mouths burn every time. The meals are usually finished with a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony in which coffee beans are roasted freshly. We all agreed that the brew we drank in Ethiopia was the best in the world. After all, the cradle of the Ethiopian gift to the world is close: Arabica coffee.

Unfortunately, due to political turmoil, we could only work ten days in the field out of the three weeks we had planned. During our stay, demonstrations and strikes against the national government took place all over the country. In the course of the protests, over one hundred people were killed by security forces. As it turned out, the city of Gondar was – and still is – one of the epicenters of the protest. The security situation didn’t allow us to leave to the villages and, during strikes, not even to leave our hotel. The uncertainty of how things would develop finally made us leave Gondar earlier and so we spent the last week before our departure in the capital Addis Ababa. There we were lucky to meet Dr. Mulatu Astatke, Ethiopia’s most famous Ethio-Jazz legend, perform live in his club, taste the finest honey beer, tej, and visit Africas biggest market, the Piaza.

We are very grateful to all the friendly people we met during our stay and that made our time in Ethiopia an unforgettable experience.

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