WeForest Project


Ethiopia Desa'a

Restoring the forest to bring back biodiversity
Area restored
3,395 ha

Project Summary

The Desa’a Forest is one of the oldest remaining dry afromontane forests in Ethiopia, and the largest in Tigray and Afar. It is listed as a global biodiversity hotspot and priority area for conservation by the Ethiopian government. This region is also known as the Cradle of Humanity and forms the last green barrier against the expanding desert. Only 10% of the original forest is still relatively dense. These are areas that are either sacred or inaccessible and have therefore been preserved from illegal logging and grazing. WeForest now protects these areas with guards and uses them as precious seed banks for the restoration of surrounding buffer zones. To further protect and restore other parts of the forest, WeForest engages the surrounding farmers and landless families in Kalamin (Atsbi Wonberta district) and surrounding villages, partially voluntary and partially paid. They help dig micro basins, bring stones and mulch to retain soil moisture, plant the seedlings and eventually prune the trees as they grow. In return, they receive valuable beehives, solar lights, efficient cookstoves, vegetable seeds, and chickens.

WeForest´s work in the area is supporting the vision of the Great Green Wall - launched in 2007 to stop the progression of the Sahara with trees contributing to solving desertification, climate change, drought, famine, conflict and migration. The concept of a wall has now evolved towards an Africa-wide initiative.

  • Alt
    Dry landscape with sparse vegetation, mainly Aloe vera.
  • Alt
    Degraded Desa'a Forest scattered with Dracaena.
  • Alt
    Local children harvesting fruits from the forest.
  • Desaa_Portrait
    Women are carrying the seedlings from the collection site to the planting site.
  • Desaa_Planting
    Transporting the seedlings to be planted.


Eastern and South Eastern zone, Tigray region

Project Status


Restoration Approach

Assisted natural regeneration
Framework planting

Target 2019

945,756 trees

Planting Period

End of June to beginning of August

Project Partners

Mekele University, Bureau of Agriculture Tigray, EEFRI, University of Leuven (KuLeuven)


Juniperus procera, Olea europaea, Cadia purpurea, Carissa edulis, Dracaena ombet, Erica arborea L., Acacia abyssinica, Maytenus obscura, Rhus natalensis

Project Goals

Restore native forest
Conserve biodiversity
Promote economic development
Build livelihood resilience

Why is intervention needed?

The Desa’a forest reserve is home to many threatened species with an important function for climate mitigation and adaptation as well as water supply in a region directly threatened by desertification coming from the North and from the East. Currently, 74% of the forest has disappeared and the remaining 26% are severely degraded. The immediate consequence is erosion of topsoil and the significant reduction of agricultural yields for the smallholder farmers. Even more alarming is the possible long-term impact on local cloud formation and rainfall, causing more frequent droughts and food insecurity.

Ecological restoration

WeForest is working since 2016 to directly restore and protect over 40,000 ha of this forest through Assisted Natural Regeneration (ANR) and Enrichment Planting. We select those species that serve multiple purposes to the forest and the communities, generating a combination of social, economic and environmental benefits. Examples are the Olive (Olea europaea), Juniper (Juniperus procera) and Briar Root (Erica arborea), which are combined with different grass species for fodder and reduce erosion. Furthermore soil and water conservation structures are built to reduce run-offs and improve soil infiltration.

Livelihood development

By combining forest restoration with livelihood improvement programmes, we focus on improving the natural resource governance and the socio-economic resilience of communities living in and around the forest, with a special focus on women, landless, subsistence farmers and youth. Examples of activities are: beekeeping, poultry, sheep, high value trees and vegetable seeds,efficient cookstoves, solar lights, employment of forest guards, as well as the establishment and strengthening of rural schools’ environmental clubs.


* Carbon calculation methodology

The total above-ground and below-ground biomass is estimated to average a sequestration of 158 tons of CO2 per hectare over a period of 50 years.