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Coffee and conservation: a biosphere reserve

With 29 stakeholders, we developed a vision for a resilient and equitable future, where local people have access to diverse, healthy food.

Photo of Joern Fischer
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Leuphana University Lueneburg

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Researcher Institution

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia, Dr. Feyera Senbeta) and Utrecht University (The Netherlands, Dr. Ine Dorresteijn, who was formerly at Leuphana University Lueneburg, Germany)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Three districts in southwestern Ethiopia, namely Gumay, Gera and Setema. These are located in Jimma Zone, Oromia Regional State.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The team leading the development of this vision is multinational. Its core members over the last five years have included Tolera Senbeto Jiren (Leuphana University Lueneburg) and Feyera Senbeta (Addis Ababa University), both of whom grew up in rural areas in the regional state of Oromia. Indeed, Dr. Feyera is himself a son of a farmer, and as such is intimately familiar with the livelihood challenges facing local people in rural Ethiopia. Other core members of the research team were from Germany and the Netherlands (Jan Hanspach, Jannik Schultner, Ine Dorresteijn, Joern Fischer).

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Ethiopia is the second most populous nation in Africa, and 80% of Ethiopians live in rural areas. We focused on three districts in Jimma Zone (Oromia National Regional State) in southwestern Ethiopia, which consists of a mosaic of farmland and moist evergreen Afromontane forest. Southwestern Ethiopia is the centre of origin and diversity of coffee (Coffea arabica), and part of the internationally recognized Eastern Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot. Local livelihoods rely on smallholder agriculture, including crops and livestock; coffee and khat are important cash crops. Khat is a plant whose leaves are chewed as a stimulant. Food security is higher than in some other parts of Ethiopia, but many households face seasonal food shortages. +++++ People’s diet at present are primarily grain-based. Maize is the most important crop for relatively poor people (because it is relatively high in calories), but the Ethiopian grain teff is preferred by most inhabitants. Teff is healthy because it is rich in iron, and is used to prepare the national staple food “injera”. In addition to injera made from different mixtures of grains (ideally teff, but this is not always available), local people eat various types of fruit and vegetables grown in their homegardens, as well as eggs and occasionally small amounts of meat and dairy when these are available. The plant “ensete” is prepared in a labour-intensive way and consumed in the lean season by some households – in this part of Ethiopia, it is a non-preferred food item. Unlike in other parts of Africa, bushmeat plays virtually no role in people’s diets. +++++ In terms of culture, most inhabitants in the area are Muslim, and most are of the Oromo ethnicity. There are, however, also other ethnicities, and some Christian households. Ethnic groups and the different religions typically live side by side in a fairly peaceful way. +++++ There have been improvements in medical care, and schools are more common than (for example) twenty years ago. However, there is still a lack of infrastructure in many of the more remote municipalities, and despite there being many primary schools, there are few qualified teachers. Family sizes are quite large, with most families having around 5 children. +++++ Local people report growing trends in environmental degradation, population growth, and land scarcity. Most local people believe in an ethic of “hard work”, and trust that this attitude will help them to overcome problems in the future. +++++ Although the governmental system is strongly hierarchical and has numerous problems, there are also many local government officers who are highly motivated to improve the lives of local people. Community groups and non-government organisations are very few in the area. +++++ In summary, it is a relatively poor area; the land is rich in natural resources but these are being degraded from the pressure of a growing human population.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The environment forms the basis of local livelihoods. Key challenges include: 1. gradual loss and degradation of forest because of farmland expansion due to population growth; 2. large populations of crop-raiding wildlife, especially baboons – people currently lose up to a third of their harvest to wildlife; 3. a loss of soil fertility because fallow periods of arable fields are too few and because chemical fertilizer has damaged natural fertility; 4. some insect pests and fungal pests on coffee; 5. climate variability and change. ++ Local diets are primarily composed of grains (maize, teff, sorghum). The most food secure households grow a combination of several food crops, as well as growing the cash crops coffee and khat (a plant whose leaves can be chewed as a stimulant). Households growing these cash crops but only a single food crop are less food secure than those growing a diversified portfolio of food crops. Additional, less common food items include eggs, dairy products and meat. Traditional diets are healthy; for example, teff is rich in iron. At present, many households – especially those headed by women or those headed by landless men – face seasonal food shortages in the lean season. Key dietary challenges include: 1. inequitable access to diversified, healthy diets; 2. crop raiding by wildlife; 3. a possible homogenization of diets if more uniform crops were grown. ++ The local economy includes trade within villages as well as at some regional centers. Most trade is for food crops, but there is also trade for livestock (to the capital). The cash crops coffee, khat and eucalyptus are also important parts of many households’ livelihoods. Key economic challenges are: 1. poor infrastructure in some (remote) villages; 2. a lack of paid employment for young people. ++ Local culture has a rich history – with Ethiopia being the only African country never exposed to prolonged colonization. Traditional institutions exist, among others, for labour sharing and to guard fields against crop raiding by baboons. A key challenge to culture includes the erosion of traditional institutions. In general, local people are very proud of their culture, and cultural cohesion is high. ++ In the area of technology, farm tools are very simple, and mostly made of wood. Modern farming technologies, however, are sometimes not suited to local conditions, or are so expensive that only few farmers can benefit (i.e. they can foster inequity). Mobile phones and other luxury goods are few in the area. A key challenge in the sphere of technology therefore is the development and spread of technologies that equitably benefit the well-being of many people. ++ Policy challenges are important in Ethiopia, which has a history of top-down governance. A key challenge is to work towards more participatory and democratic decision-making. ++ Interrelationships among these challenges were explicitly considered in a systems diagram (see details below and attachment).

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

We entitled our vision “Coffee and Conservation” vision. ++++ In terms of the environment, in this vision, the forest is zoned, such that it has a core protected area as well as a multi-use area; the rest of the landscape is used for sustainable, organic farming. Soils can recover because of better and widespread application of modern organic farming methods. Increases in birds and insects serve as natural pest control agents. Impacts of climate change and variability are buffered through higher agroecological (and social) resilience. ++++ With respect to diets, there is strong emphasis on diversified livelihoods and diversified food production. While some households will be poorer than others, we envisage that the broad-scale uptake of modern organic techniques – including in homegardens – will benefit everyone, especially the poor. This is because such techniques are ideal to make the most of limited land. Crop raiding will be controlled by community-organised schemes that organize the guarding of arable fields – making the most of the surplus labour available in an area where labour is critically important. ++++ Economic wealth has increased by 2050 in our vision, but a conscious decision was made towards equitable economic growth, rather than rapid growth. Infrastructure will be improved, and a small and sustainable ecological and cultural tourism industry helps to bring extra income to the area; and helps to create new jobs. Local products are partly consumed locally, but partly sold as fairly traded and organically certified products to distant markets (e.g. in Europe). ++++ Local culture is actively maintained and celebrated. Traditional institutions are actively maintained and in some cases strengthened or resurrected. Traditional foods and customs are shared with a steady influx of international visitors. People from multiple ethnicities and religious groupings live peacefully side by side. ++++ Technological changes have occurred in ways that are equitable. The biggest changes are observable in the area of organic farming – instead of very rudimentary knowledge on organic farming techniques, organic farming is now flourishing as the standard practice; leading to a reinforcing innovation feedback and strong farmer-to-farmer networks of learning and sharing innovations. ++++ The policy environment is determined partly from outside the region; but starting with the visioning process used here, it is possible to demonstrate that more participatory ways of working towards better outcomes are in fact a win-win-win situation for political stability, economic growth and local self-determination. ++++ Interrelationships among the different challenges were systematically considered when developing the vision, such that the final vision is internally coherent and achievable.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Lives have changed for the better, and both socially and environmentally, the region is more resilient towards external changes than ever before. This is critical at a time when “unknown unknowns” are likely – nobody can say which global economic or environmental surprises will occur in 2050. +++++ The environment will benefit through clear (and implemented) regulations of (participatory) forest management. The environment will also benefit through more sustainable, organic farming techniques being widespread. +++++ Partly because of a more resilient environment, people will be more food secure and will have viable livelihoods; either in farming, or in tourism, or in some cases as wildlife guards. In addition, a new service industry is emerging as more people come out of poverty. +++++ The culture of people in the region is proudly being maintained. It is explicitly being seen as part of what makes development strong and sustainable. +++++ Technologies have improved dramatically, but the emphasis has not been on high-tech equipment that hardly anyone can afford – but rather on powerful but simple technologies that can truly make a difference (e.g. manure powered methane stoves, modern composting facilities etc.). +++++ Finally, people feel a greater sense of power and self-determination of their future, because they are routinely involved in decision-making processes. The gap between women and men has also decreased as a result of these processes.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

METHODS USED TO GENERATE THE VISION ++++ Our visioning process followed five major steps. ++++ First, we elicited current social-ecological challenges in collaboration with 29 regional organizations and community groups representing environmental, social and economic interests. We asked stakeholders to list changes that had taken place in the last two decades, and we asked them to consider what changes might take place in the future. We then analyzed possible relationships between the different changes. For example, human population growth might lead to an increase in land scarcity. This, in turn, can be expected to decrease crop yields for any given household, which would negatively affect household incomes and food security. Cause-and-effect chains like this can be very complex, because one change can sometimes cause a series of additional changes. Sometimes, the resulting patterns can even reinforce an initial change (a so-called reinforcing feedback effect). For example, modernized farming often uses high levels of external inputs. This can increase crop yields, and in turn, can lead to the generation of surplus yields, which can be sold in markets. The revenue resulting from this can then be invested to further modernize farming, for example, by purchasing additional improved varieties or agrochemicals. Alternatively, feedback effects can also balance, or slow down, an existing trend. For example, through the over-application of agrochemicals, modernized farming can actually reduce natural soil fertility. This, in turn, will reduce crop yields, thereby limiting surplus production and hence revenues. The opportunity to further modernize farming, in this example, would then be compromised. In a series of workshops, we combined many of such cause-and-effect chains into a detailed diagram, describing the environmental, social and economic interlinkages in Ethiopia’s southwest. This detailed diagram has been provided as a visual above. ++++ In a second step, we asked stakeholders to highlight which drivers were particularly uncertain in terms of how they might play out in the future. Major uncertainties identified revolved around topics such as local living conditions and traditions, land use and climate change, income and employment opportunities, and land use rights. Key uncertainties were identified especially with respect to land use– which, in turn, was intimately intertwined with changes in the environment, in diets, economics, culture, technology and policy. Because of the cross-cutting and overarching importance of land use, we considered future land use the most important critical uncertainty. ++++ In a third step, we developed four draft scenarios of how different types of land use change (and their cultural, technological and policy contexts) may results in alternative futures for the region. We worked through the existing systems understanding, and considered additional possible shocks – e.g. climate change or outbreaks of agricultural pests. On this basis, four scenarios were constructed, and refined and validated together with local stakeholders. Following this step, all four scenarios were deemed plausible – that is, stakeholders agreed that all of them were within the range of possibilities of what might happen within the next 20-30 years. ++++ In a fourth step, the four scenarios were evaluated for their outcomes with respect to the environment, diets, economics, culture, technology and policy. All four scenarios had different risks and opportunities. ++++ In a fifth step, we presented the scenarios back to hundreds of local people in several municipalities, to dozens of local government representatives, and we linked local and regional level stakeholders (including government and other sectors) in a two-day conference. During these events, we obtained feedback both on the process we had used to work with stakeholders, as well as on the scenarios and their strengths and weaknesses. ++++ FROM FOUR SCENARIOS TO A SUSTAINABLE FOOD VISION ++++ The majority of stakeholders agreed that one of the four scenarios was most desirable for the region. The scenario is entitled “Coffee and Conservation”. ++++ If we are awarded the Food System Vision Prize, we plan to continue our work with local stakeholders to develop concrete steps for how this vision – or at least its central features – can be proactively pursued in practice. ++++ We wrote up our work in a bilingual small book, which we attach to this application as supporting material. It describes the strengths and weaknesses of the four different future scenarios in detail. Artwork used for illustrating the scenarios – including to illiterate stakeholders – is also included. ++++ Here, we focus on the most widely supported, and most sustainable of the four scenarios – namely “Coffee and Conservation” vision. ++++ SUMMARY OF THE VISION ++++ Our vision is written in present tense – as you read it, imagine you are in the year 2050: ++++ Years of conventional intensification supported by the green revolution have degraded natural resources throughout Ethiopia. Reduced soil fertility, large-scale soil erosion and persistent droughts made it impossible to grow enough food to feed the Ethiopian population. Due to pressure from environmental NGOs and local resistance to the failing strategy of conventional agriculture, the government has transformed its agricultural policy towards sustainable land management. Biosphere reserves are being established across Ethiopia to mainstream approaches that integrate conservation of natural habitat and sustainable food production. This shift was facilitated by increasing international demand for sustainably produced agricultural products, as well as the active participation of locals in the transformation process. In the southwest, the Buna Duga Biosphere Reserve has been established. This reserve emphasizes not only the traditional cultureof growing and drinking coffee, butalso good social relationships, which are the central pillar of the newly established community-based management of the reserve. ++++ The landscape consists of a core zone of unused natural forest, a buffer zone for low-intensity production of local coffee, wild honey, and other forest products, and an outer area with a mosaic of cropland, pastures and tree plantations. Planting of native tree species for timber, firewood and shade for coffee, is highly encouraged, and care is taken that people retain their uses and knowledge of local plants. The land is farmed using a mixture of traditional agricultural practices and modern techniques such as crop rotation, intercropping with legumes, soil and water conservation, and composting. Livestock production and communal grazing are maintained and also provide manure for fertilising the fields. People grow a wide variety of fruit and vegetables in their homegardens. Due to these sustainable practices, farmland biodiversity is recovering from earlier impacts of fertilisers and pesticides, and important ecosystem services provided by farmland, such as soil fertility, are restored. The management of the biosphere reserve is realised through strong community participation, which also fostered the acceptance to establish a protected core zone of natural forests. Although some forest clearing was unavoidable to accommodate the growing population in the past, the core zone now is a haven for many rare and endangered species, and also is a refuge for the wild gene pool of Coffea arabica. ++++ To reduce negative impacts of wild crop-raiding animals, jobs as wildlife guards have been provided through community-based arrangements, especially to local people without access to land. The wildlife guards are responsible to help scare off crop-raiding animals, provide information to farmers on how to best protect fields, and where necessary reduce the populations of the most problematic species such as baboons and bush pigs via controlled culling measures. Community-based management of the reserve supports the continuation of semi-subsistence farming and provides job opportunities for landless or poor people and minorities. ++++ Social capital is high, and traditional collaborative agreements, such as didaro, have received renewed attention and have facilitated the transition process. Conflicts are usually solved within the community. Cultural integrity remains high and people are in good spirit. As an important part of their cultural identity, people grow and eat the majority of their own food. ++++ In addition, coffee and nature-based tourism are beginning to develop, bringing in extra money. The majority of people are now able to live in houses with metal roofs, have access to health and education, and are able to buffer their livelihoods during difficult times. Women in the region are empowered through inclusion in decision-making processes. This has led to higher acceptance of family planning and smaller family sizes, reducing population growth in the long-term. Despite limited economic growth, equality among people is high, and diversified farming combined with high social capital increases household resilience to climate change and other potential problems, such as market fluctuations or crop diseases. ++++ IMPLICATIONS ++++ The “Coffee and Conservation” vision provides a major opportunity for sustainable development, both in socioeconomic terms, but also to protect Ethiopia’s unique biodiversity. Capitalizing on this opportunity, however, will require an inclusive, collaborative and proactive approach that brings together local people, policy makers, and non-government experts. Key challenges relate to the development and implementation of appropriate land use strategies, including modern organic farming methods and the development of tourism as appropriate. This task is not only managerial, but hinges on the involvement and empowerment of local communities.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email

Attachments (1)

2018 ETH book_low_res.pdf

This book was written to engage local stakeholders in the visioning process. It details four scenarios -- the most popular and sustainable vision was the "Coffee and Conservation" scenario.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Itika Gupta

Hi Joern Fischer  Great to see you joining the Prize!
It is fascinating to see you build a Vision for Ethiopia for access to diverse and healthy food. Whats even more interesting is the fact that you're building this Vision with such a diverse team.
We noticed your submission is currently unpublished. Was this your intention? We'd love to have your submission included in the Prize. Even if you've not started populating your Vision just yet, by publishing your submission you can make it public for other teams in your region to see, get in touch and possibly even collaborate with you.
You can publish it by hitting the "Publish" button at the top of your post. You can also update your Vision at any time before 31 January 2020 by clicking on the "Edit Contribution" on top. If you need inspiration or guidance, take a look at the Food Vision Prize Toolkit.
Here's the link to the Prize Toolkit:

We look forward to seeing your Vision submission.

Photo of Joern Fischer

Thanks Itika

yes, so far it is unpublished because I have a bit more text already written but not yet in good enough shape to paste into the browser ... I ran out of time for the time being :)

The prize toolkit is really cool, I looked at it and find it a very nice mixture of suggestions! We carried out the visioning exercises before this prize was announced (or before I became aware of it anyway). That's why we do not strictly follow the suggested steps in the toolkit. But I think we still get to many of the key points -- which is why I thought we might try to apply for this prize.

Best wishes


Photo of Joern Fischer

Dear Itika,

I'm having trouble adding my two partner organisations -- although they have registered, I can't find them when I try to add them. They are Feyera Senbeta (Addis Ababa University) and Ine Dorresteijn (Utrecht University). Can you provide technical guidance for this, or tell me who I should ask?



Photo of Itika Gupta

Hey Joern,

So exciting to hear that you are already in process of doing Vision exercises with your team. Glad to hear that you found the toolkit helpful.

Regarding adding your team members, here's what you need to do:
1. Tell your team member to make an OpenIDEO account
2. After that, click on "Edit Contribution"
3. In the bottom of your submission draft, you can see a section called "Add your team"
4. Type your team's name in the typing window, and their profile thumbnail will appear.
5. Once you select the thumbnail, they automatically get added to the team
6. Save contribution

This should work. But let me know if you need any more support.

Photo of Joern Fischer

Hello again ... I did all of those steps, but their names simply do not show up (although they did register). Can you find them on the system, for example (Ine Dorresteijn, Feyera Senbeta)? Sorry to appear technology-incompetent, but I'm really unsure why this is not working out! Thanks again!

Photo of Itika Gupta

Hey Joern. I checked in the system. I also check in the application.
When I type their name in the box that appears after I click on "Create team".
If you can drop us an email at we can send you a few screenshots explaining the process.

Photo of Joern Fischer

Thanks again -- I eventually got it to work, so the team and "draft submission" is complete now!
All the best

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