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Project

FRAnkincense, Myrrh and gum arabic: sustainable use of dry woodland resources in Ethiopia (FRAME)

More than half of the total land area in Ethiopia is arid to semiarid with marginal or no agricultural potential. Overexploitation of natural resources is common, and the degradation of natural resources further reduces local livelihood options. This negative trend may be further intensified due to climate change (e.g. drought). Consequently, there is an urgent need for improved landuse strategies that will make the vast arid and semi arid land resources optimally contribute to the livelihoods of local people and national development goals.

The Problem

In contrast, it can be argued that in reality the dry lands in Ethiopia are not as resource poor as perceived. They host several woody species that hold economically well recognized aromatic products such as gum arabic, frankincense and myrrh, which are widely used locally and in several of today’s commercial industries such as cosmetic, pharmacological and food industries. Frankincense and myrrh are among the oldest internationally traded commercial tree products.Ethiopia is worldwide the main producer of frankincense and myrrh, and exports much gum arabic. Gum/resin production could significantly contribute towards sustainable development of these marginal dry lands. However, improper land use (overgrazing, over-harvesting of gum/resins and wood) threatens the sustainability of the woody vegetation, and as a result of that also the long-term gum/resin production. Local communities may also enhance the productive capacity of the natural vegetation by establishing protected enclosures and by cultivation of trees. Such production systems may have a lower status regarding biodiversity and natural ecosystem functioning, but maintain ecological buffering capacity and improve production for human benefit. The often dominating perspective of poverty forcing local communities to overexploit theirforests resources has gradually been complemented by a perspective of local communities maintaining forest resources on the basis of their forest-related values and indigenous knowledge systems. Resource degradation and sustainable use of resources should therefore be considered as referring to a continuum in people – forest interactions characterized by partly overlapping processes of degradation, resource conservation, and resource enrichment. Consequently, often a mosaic in forested landscape units is created each having its specific ecological conditions.

Main research question

The program addresses the following main research question: in what way dry land forests in Ethiopia can be made productive while maintaining ecosystem integrity in terms of sustainability of production and vegetation cover, with special attention to resin and gum resources?

In addressing this question, the central departure will be that gum/resins are produced in a forested landscape with units in different stadia of degradation and enrichment.

Methodology

A multidisciplinary approach using several scientific disciplines ranging from landscape-level geoinformation studies to village-level socio-economic studies, plot level ecological and harvesting technology studies to tree-level ecophysiological studies with a strong contribution of local knowledge will be used to answer the central research question.

In the research program, we will determine the ecological and livelihood role of the gum/resin producing species, and the role that people have in either degrading or restoring these ecosystems. We will predict resource yield under various scenarios of resource use and management and under different climatic condition (wet-dry sites at low and high altitude). We will evaluate the consequences of resource use, management, and climate, in term of yield, future woodland status (e.g. restoration or degradation), and contributions to local livelihoods. Local organisations are participating in all stages of the project in order to obtain a shared vision about development options for sustainable woodland use.

Expected results and contribution to the solving of the identified problem

The results of the research program will stimulate:

(1) sustainable management of tree resources, including a combination of conscious protection of natural woodlands and their controlled transformation into ‘resource-enriched’ vegetation types;

(2) cultivation of these tree species on degraded lands, and thereby restoration of degraded sites; this improves the economical benefit from yield and commercialisation of tree resources in the future; and

(3) management strategies (including appropriate institutional arrangements) at the landscape level, tuned with local environment and socio-economic conditions.

We expect that proper use and cultivation of gum and resin yielding tree species leads to improved sustainable management of natural resources and forms the basis for development of long-term scenarios for proper use and selection of suitable areas of dry woodland resources in Ethiopia.

Publications


Flowering Boswellia tree (© Woldeselassie Ogbazghi)
Flowering Boswellia tree (© Woldeselassie Ogbazghi)
Boswellia tree in the landscape, Eritrea. (© Woldeselassie Ogbazghi)
Boswellia tree in the landscape, Eritrea. (© Woldeselassie Ogbazghi)
Man tapping Boswellia tree for incense (© Woldeselassie Ogbazghi)
Man tapping Boswellia tree for incense (© Woldeselassie Ogbazghi)
Boswellia tree in the landscape, Eritrea. (© Woldeselassie Ogbazghi)
Boswellia tree in the landscape, Eritrea. (© Woldeselassie Ogbazghi)
Boswellia tree in the landscape, Eritrea. The black spots on the bark are former tapping points. (© Frans Bongers)
Boswellia tree in the landscape, Eritrea. The black spots on the bark are former tapping points. (© Frans Bongers)
Boswellia tree in the dry period, with frankincense researcher Dr Woldeselassie Ogbazghi (middle) and two local farmers that also tap trees for frankincense. (© Frans Bongers)
Boswellia tree in the dry period, with frankincense researcher Dr Woldeselassie Ogbazghi (middle) and two local farmers that also tap trees for frankincense. (© Frans Bongers)
Tapping of Boswellia tree for frankincense, Gondor region, northern Ethiopia. (© Frans Bongers)
Tapping of Boswellia tree for frankincense, Gondor region, northern Ethiopia. (© Frans Bongers)
Idem, detail (© Frans Bongers)
Idem, detail (© Frans Bongers)
Gum coming out of the bark (© Frans Bongers)
Gum coming out of the bark (© Frans Bongers)
Frankincense at Gum Company, Eritrea. High grade frankincense tears. (© Frans Bongers)
Frankincense at Gum Company, Eritrea. High grade frankincense tears. (© Frans Bongers)
Frankincense used at coffee ceremony, Asmara, Eritrea. (© Frans Bongers)
Frankincense used at coffee ceremony, Asmara, Eritrea. (© Frans Bongers)
Frankincense used at coffee ceremony, Asmara, Eritrea. (© Frans Bongers)
Frankincense used at coffee ceremony, Asmara, Eritrea. (© Frans Bongers)