Wondo Genet College Arboretum Restoration Project By Ben Jones, Curator, University of Oxford Harcourt Arboretum & Kirsty Shaw, Conservation Officer, bgci

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Wondo Genet College Arboretum Restoration Project

By Ben Jones, Curator, University of Oxford Harcourt Arboretum

& Kirsty Shaw, Conservation Officer, BGCI
The Horn of Africa, which comprises of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia, is a major centre of plant diversity and endemism, home to more than 8,000 plant species, of which 24% are endemic to the region. Whilst the region is rich in endemic plant species, it is also rich in useful or economically important plants. Tree species are of particular importance in this region of low forest cover.
Ethiopia and Eritrea have a wide range of ecological types, from arid lowlands in the east to rain forests in the west and high-altitude afro-alpine vegetation in the central highlands. Environmental degradation and deforestation have been taking place in Ethiopia and Eritrea for centuries, giving rise to high rates of habitat destruction and in more recent years, this has been combined with an increased demographic pressure on diminishing natural resources.
Demand for fuelwood and construction material has led to large-scale deforestation and is an ever-increasing threat. More than 90% of the total energy of Ethiopia and Eritrea comes from biomass, with fuelwood being the highest component. In addition, Ethiopia has the largest population of livestock in Africa; thus grazing pressure has increased the rate at which tree and shrub species are becoming scarcer.
Situated in the south-eastern central highlands of Ethiopia, 263km south of Addis Ababa, the Wondo Genet College of Forestry and Natural Resources sits on the eastern slope of the Great Rift Valley escarpment. The College was founded in 1978 and has gradually been expanded over the years. Douglas Sim, the College’s first Principal (1978-1983), established an arboretum within the college campus.
The arboretum sits at 1,890m above sea level, with an average annual temperature of 19 degrees Celsius and 1.1m rainfall annually. The arboretum covers ca. 3hectares and includes 95 species, of which 35 are indigenous, including 3 endemic species to Ethiopia (Acacia abyssinica, Ehretia cymosa & Millettia ferruginea). Plantings took place in 1978, 1982, 1989 & 2000. 133 species of woody plants were planted in plots, either 5 x 5 or 6 x 6 with its main roles focusing on education and research.
Project Aims & Objectives
In 2012, the restoration project was initiated by Dr. Peter Borchardt1 at the arboretum entitled 'ARBOPRO', and initially was a joint initiative between Wondo Genet College, the University of Hamburg and the University of Oxford Harcourt Arboretum. The project focused on the restoration of the Arboretum and how its Vision & Mission2 might be achieved. In the past ten years or more the arboretum has become dilapidated as a result of diminishing resources (time & finances), woody and non-woody plants being cut down for fuel, grazing cattle and not being utilized as part of the student’s education.
Over the last two years, the ArboPro project partners have been working together to restore the arboretum and help refocus its role within the college. In summary, some of the achievements have been:

  • Stock check, mapping & relabeling of the arboretum

  • Construction of an entrance gate, part of the fence and pathways

  • Inspired staff members, students and the college community in general to be involved in future developments

  • Provided employment; Arboretum Technician & Site Manager

  • Capacity building; training, networking and profile raising

  • Outlined focus for future development of the arboretum

Future Development
Its future development and continued restoration will build on these achievements and can now act as a platform for broader roles and opportunities. The main objectives for the arboretum can be divided into four main areas:

  1. Education & Research

  2. Conservation

  3. Interpretation

  4. Community

ARBOPRO organized a series of workshops to develop partners and ideas to support future development of the arboretum.

Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) participated in the third workshop, held in May 2014. A particular focus was to look at how the BGCI network can support the development of Wondo Genet Arboretum and to discuss the potential for the arboretum to become involved in BGCI’s current project: Enhancing Tree Conservation and Forest Restoration in Africa. This project currently involves working with botanic gardens in Kenya and Uganda to set up forest restoration plots, identify priority indigenous species for forest restoration and develop best practice guidelines for forest restoration in East Africa. A key aim of the project is to develop partnerships to expand the initiative across Africa, working with additional botanic gardens and arboreta and linking with other relevant organisations, including tree planting and conservation NGOs, private sector and government.
The arboretum at Wondo Genet College would be an excellent location for establishing a forest restoration plot and testing indigenous species’ performance as it benefits from the expertise of college staff and offers training and outreach opportunities to students and visitors. With increasing pressure on Ethiopia’s forests, particularly evident in the area around Wondo Genet College, the arboretum would be well placed to adopt a prominent role in the development of forest restoration programmes in the region.
BGCI is working with the ARBOPRO team as they continue to restore and improve the facilities and capacity of the arboretum and staff.
Networking and capacity building
A number of other botanic gardens are also in development across Ethiopia, in association with universities and/or the Ethiopian Institute of Biodiversity, including the 700 hectare Gullele Botanic Garden on the edge of Addis Ababa. This is very timely, given the fast rate of infrastructure development in the country and associated high risk of biodiversity loss.
With multiple botanic gardens at similar stages of development, networking, sharing of material, expertise and experiences, and capacity building will be key to efficiently and effectively strengthen the conservation and outreach potential of these institutions. ARBOPRO for example, illustrates the benefit of linking organisations with similar remits but varying skill sets to strengthen restoration efforts at Wondo Genet Arboretum.
In October 2014 BGCI will be holding a capacity building workshop for botanic garden managers in Ethiopia, focusing on conservation policy and accession planning to meet conservation aims. With a network of over 700 members, mostly botanic gardens, in over 110 countries, BGCI will draw upon the knowledge and experience of our staff and members to support the restoration and development of Ethiopia’s botanic gardens and arboreta.

1 Dr. Peter Borchardt, Institue of Geography, University of Hamburg

2 Vision: To become a known arboretum globally, and a centre of tree and shrub collections of the East African region

Mission: To represent most of the endemic and endangered indigenous tree species in the next 10 years (to have a collection of 400 tree and shrub species)

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