WeForest Project


Ethiopia Desa'a

Reversing land degradation and poverty through forest landscape restoration
Area restored
6,527 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. Directly threatened by desertification, 74% of the Desa’a forest has already disappeared and the remaining 26% are already severely degraded; it is a priority area for conservation by the Ethiopian government. Over 26,000 people that live here below the poverty line; growing crops and farm livestock, they rely completely on the forest for water, energy and to feed their cattle. Agricultural land is scarce with low soil fertility; landlessness particularly affects the youth and the most vulnerable households in the community. The immediate consequence of degradation is erosion of topsoil and the significant reduction of agricultural yields for the smallholders. This is leading to a vicious circle between increasing poverty and forest resources depletion. Even more alarming is the possible long-term impact on local cloud formation and rainfall, causing more frequent droughts and food insecurity. WeForest is working with the local Tigray government to restore thousands of hectares each year. The small area of intact forest is protected and now a precious seed bank for the restoration of surrounding area; local nurseries grow and supply seedlings, communities are engaged in planting, maintenance and assist in building soil and water conservation structures. In return for their participation they receive equipment, training and support to develop new forest-friendly livelihoods such as beekeeping, poultry and small ruminants that will both protect the forest and support the resilience of local communities. 

  • 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

Planting Period

End of June to beginning of August

Project Partners

Tigray Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development

The Federal Republic of Ethiopia Commission of Environment Forest and Climate Change

Tigray Plan and Finance

Mekelle University

Ethiopia Environment and Forest Research institute


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.