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Plant Conservation Strategy in Ethiopia
Ensermu Kelbessa


  • Ethiopia -location between 3º and 15º N and 33º and 48º E.
  • Total area of 1.13 million km2 (EMA, 1988).
  • Population of over 77 million.
  • Geographically diverse with high and rugged mountains, flat topped plateaux (9 mountains above 4000 m) and deep gorges (7 major rivers).
  • Altitudes 126 m below sea level (Kobat Sink, Afar Depression), to 4620 m at Ras Dejen.
  • The Great Rift Valley separates the northwestern and southeastern highlands.
  • A great diversity of climate, soil and vegetation.
  • The climate of Ethiopia ranges from equatorial desert to hot and cool steppe.
  • Temperature decreases when one moves from the peripheries towards the interior.
  • On the high gound there is 'summer' every day and 'winter' every night.
  • The southwestern wettest with the average annual rainfall exceeding 2200 mm in Ilubabor Province.
  • All highlands in the southwest above the elevation of about 1000 m receive 1400-2200 mm annual rainfall.
  • The rainfall amount decreases in all directions as one moves from the southwestern highlands.
  • Decreasing to less than 200 mm in the Danakil Depression, the lower Awash River Basin and in Eastern Ogaden.
  • The vegetation of the country fall within four Regional Centres of endemism in Africa (White, 1983):
    • Sudanian
    • Somalia-Masai
    • Afromontane
    • Afroalpine
  • Vegetation is classified into eight types –
    • Desert and Semi-desert Scrub,
    • Acacia-Commiphora woodland,
    • Combretum-Terminalia woodland,
    • Lowland Moist Evergreen Forest,
    • Moist Montane Forest,
    • Dry Evergreen Montane Forest,
    • Afroalpine and Subafroalpine Vegetation, and
    • Wetland and Riparian.
  • Vascular plants about 6000 species, with about 600 endemics.
  • Cultivated crops diverse, several cultivated only in Ethiopia.
  • No proper use of these resources sustainably due to various reasons including
    • Lack of awareness of sustainability use of resources,
    • Shortage of trained man power,
    • Prevailing poverty.


  • The Environmental Policy of Ethiopia (EPA, 1995), puts the following as one of the policy statements, 'to promote in situ systems (i.e. conservation in a nature reserve, farmer’s fields, etc.) as the primary target for conserving both wild and domesticated biological diversity; but also promote ex situ systems (i.e. conservation outside the original or natural habitat) in gene banks, farms, botanical gardens, ranches and zoos as supplementary to in situ conservation'.

  • Thus, the policy advocates the need for conservation of plant resources in botanic gardens to support in situ conservation.

  • Further, the Conservation Strategy of Ethiopia (EPA, 1997), puts as one of the strategies in forest resource and ecosystem management to 'promote conservation of natural forests and expand the existing network of protected areas by concentrating efforts on establishing and implementing management plans for forest priority areas; determining which are for habitat protection, for conservation and for production so that the existing network of protected areas is expanded, endemic and rare species as well as unique ecosystems and watersheds are adequately protected and adequate wood production is carried out on a sustainable basis'.

History of Conservation in Ethiopia
In situ.

  • The first conservation of natural resources started in 1969, by establishing two parks, Simien and the Awash National Parks.
  • In the following years, 1970, the Bale Mountains National Park was founded, and later other national parks, game reserves, wildlife sanctuaries and controlled hunting areas were established (Table 1).
  • But all the latter ones remained without having legal protection.
  • None of the conservation areas were established for the protection of plant biodiversity, though two of them, Simien and Bale Mountains National Parks are also serving that purpose.
  • Both Mountains are the most important centres of plant biodiversity, as indicated by Vivero et al. (2005b).
Table 1. Summary of the Major Protected Areas in Ethiopia.

Name Status **=Gazetted Size sq km Region Importance
Bale Mountains NP 2040 Oromiya Afroalpine, dry montane woodland, moist montane forest: Mt Nyala, Ethiopian wolf
Simien Mountains NP ** 225 Amhara Afroalpine, Walia Ibex, Ethiopian wolf
Gambella NP 5061 Gambella Swamps, Woodland, lechwe, kob
Omo NP 4068 Southern Wood-Scrubland, Large ungulate assemblage, Elephants
Mago NP 2162 Southern Wood-Scrubland, Large ungulate assemblage, Elephants
Awash NP ** 156 Oromiya/Afar Semi-Arid thorn-bush, oryx, gazelle
Abiatta - Shala NP 800 Oromiya Rift Valley Lakes, avi fauna
Yangudi - Rassa NP 4731 Afar Arid
Nech Sar NP 514 Southern Savannah wildlife; Swayne's Hartebeest
Total Area NP (only 2 Gazetted) 19757
Alatish NP planned 2000 Amahara Woodland Savannah
Babille Elephant WLS 6982 Afar Semi-Arid Elephansts
Senkelle Hartebeest WLS 54 Southern Swayne's Hartebeest
Yabello WLS 2500 Oromiya Scrub and Bush Crow
8 x Wildlife Reserve WR Many regions
18 x Hunting Areas CHA All over, many on concession
58 x Forest Priority Areas FPA 13, 863 Only those with closed forest

Source: GEF/UNDP & EPA, 2005

  • Now, there is no difference between the gazetted and non-gazetted national parks, all are not well protected.
  • All of them are under severe threat, due to various reasons.
  • Population growth that required expansion of arable land is mainly blamed for the deteriorating conditions of the national parks.
  • But there is also lack of political commitment from the government and not enough professional commitment.
  • Thus, none of the conservation areas in Ethiopia are free from human habitation and interference from his domestic animals.
  • Just to elucidate how the so-called national parks are deteriorating in Ethiopia, the Bale Mountains National Park (BMNP) will be given a light coverage.
  • BMNP was established in 1970, and it is located east of the Great Rift Valley System.
  • The Park is one of the non-gazetted parks.
  • It is the largest alpine area in Africa.
  • BMNPis known for encompassing varied ecosystems, from Combretum-Terminalia woodland at bottom to Afroalpine Moorland at the top.
  • Moist montane forest in the southern side of the mountain, beginning at 1500 m and extending to 3250 m a.s.l. (which is a tree line).
  • This moist montane forest, known as Harenna Forest is known for its endemic plants, e.g. Maytenus harenensis and Solanecio harennensis are local endemics of the Forest.
  • BMNP inhabits over 113 endemic taxa of flowering plants, 10 of which are restricted to it (Vivero et al., 2005b).
  • It sources of two major rivers – Shebelle and Genale –Juba.
  • Forest faces destruction from
    • settlement,
    • agricultural expansion
    • Grazing/browsing and
    • fire
  • The central plateau, which lies between 3800 and 4377 m a.s.l. has also been under pressure from grazing.
  • The expansion of grazing land from the lower lying forests and ericaceous scrub to the moorland is a recent phenomenon.
  • This free grazing every where in the Park, resulting in not only destruction of vegetation but also spreading rabies to the Ethiopian wolf (over 70 death in 2003/2004).
National Forest Priority Areas
  • 58 NFPAs were established in 1974 (Table 2).
  • But many of NFPAs have been reduced to small patches, and a few of them only exist on paper.

Ex situ.

  • Ethiopia started its ex situ conservation in 1976 by establishing the Plant Genetic Resources Centre/Ethiopia (PGRC/E),
  • Now called Institute of Biodiversity Conservation (IBC).
  • The Institute conserves crop genetic material in cold storage facilities as Cold Room Gene Bank.
  • Some medicinal plants are also being conserved both in Cold Room and Field Gene Banks.

The Quest for Land Acquisition to Establish a Botanic Garden

  • The desire to establish one or a number of botanical gardens in Ethiopia had been expressed by a number of biologists about 30 years ago.
  • By the Institute of Agricultural Research, Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Biology, Addis Ababa University.
  • Since January 1986, the National Herbarium of the Department of Biology
  • In January 1993, in collaboration with the Ministry of Natural Resources Development and Environmental Protection.
  • The establishment of a botanical garden in Ethiopia was continued but it never got underway.
  • In December 1999, the Head of the Environmental Protection Bureau of Addis Ababa City Administration approached the Faculty of Science
  • A meeting was organized between the members of two institutions, which resulted in the acquisition of land for the proposed botanic garden.
  • The site for the proposed botanic garden is located at the outskirt of Addis Ababa (northwest of the capital).

Why do we need a botanic garden?

  • The impoverishment of traditionally cultivated land coupled with a rapidly increasing population has necessitated the bringing into use of hitherto unused areas.
  • The original vegetation on many localities has been cleared.
  • On the other hand, we still state and believe that the Ethiopian region has long been recognized as an important centre of plant diversification and domestication of cultivated plants and the flora is diverse.
  • Unless some of these economically valuable plants are maintained in botanical gardens, their chances of depletion and subsequent extinction cannot be prevented.
  • Thus, one way of preserving plants as living objects is growing them in a botanical garden.
  • The teaching of botany also requires a botanic garden.

Why did we select the present site?

  • The selection of the site of Gullele Botanic Garden was based on its suitability –
    • The presence of two permanent streams running through the area,
    • Possession of remnants of the original vegetation,
      • The indigenous conifer Juniperus procera and the exotic Eucalyptus globulus,
      • It inhabits numerous vascular plant species and some endemic flowering plants (Table 3).
      • Eight of the endemic taxa - Acacia negrii, Echinops longisetus, Lippia adoensis, Maytenus addat, Rhus glutinosa subsp. neoglutinosa, Satureja punctata subsp. ovata, Senecio myriocephalus, and Vernonia leopoldii are in the ‘Red list of endemic trees and shrubs of Ethiopia and Eritrea’ (Vivero et al., 2005a).
    • Topographical variations allowing for development of varied types of landscape (Altitude 2550-2950m)
    • Proximity to the centre of Addis Ababa.
  • The proposed Gullele Botanic Garden site occupies an area of about 710 hectares,

Table 3. List of some endemic vascular plants identified from proposed Gullele Botanic Garden site

No. Botanical Name Family Name Status
1 Acacia negrii Pic.-Serm. Fabaceae Endemic-VU
2 Bidens macroptera (Sch. Bip. ex Chiov.) Mesfin Asteraceae Endemic-LC
3 Chiliocephalum schimperi Benth. Asteraceae Endemic-NT
4 Cineraria abyssinica Sch. Bip. ex A. Rich. Asteraceae Endemic-LC
5 Crassocephalum macropappum (Sch. Bip. ex A. Rich.) S. Moore Asteraceae Endemic-LC
6 Cyanotis polyrrhizaHochst. ex Hassk. Commelinaceae Endemic-LC
7 Echinops longisetus A. Rich. Asteraceae Endemic-LC
8 Impatiens rothii Hook.f. Balsaminaceae Endemic-LC
9 Impatiens tinctoria A. Rich. subsp. abyssinica (Hook.f.) Grey-Wilson Balsaminaceae Endemic-LC
10 Jasminum stans Pax Oleaceae Endemic-
11 Kalanchoe petitiana A. Rich. Crassulaceae Endemic-LC
12 Kniphofia schimperi Baker Asphodelaceae Endemic-VU
13 Laggera tomentosa (Sch. Bip. ex A. Rich.) Oliv. & Hiern Asteraceae Endemic-NT
14 Leucas stachydiformis (Hochst. ex Benth.) Briq. Lamiaceae Endemic-NT
15 Linum trigynum L. Linaceae
16 Lippia adoensis Hochst. ex Walp Lamiaceae Endemic-LC
17 Maytenus addat (Loes.) Sebsebe Celastraceae Endemic-NT
18 Mikaniopsis clematoides (A. Rich.) Milne-Redh. Asteraceae Endemic-LC
19 Peucedanum mattirolii Chiov. Apiaceae Endemic-VU
20 Phagnalon abyssinicum Sch. Bip. ex A. Rich. Asteraceae Endemic-LC
21 Rhus glutinosa A. Rich. subsp. neoglutinosa (Gilbert)Gilbert) Anacardiaceae Endemic-LC
22 Satureja paradoxa (Vatke) Engler Lamiaceae Endemic-NT
23 Senecio myriocephalus Sch. Bip. ex A. Rich. Asteraceae Endemic-LC
212 Senecio ochrocarpus Oliv. & Hiern Asteraceae Endemic-NT
24 Senecio schimperi Sch. Bip. Asteraceae Endemic-LC
25 Solanum marginatum L.f. Solanaceae Endemic-LC
26 Thymus schimperi Ronniger Lamiaceae Endemic-LC
27 Trifolium calocephalum Fresen. Fabaceae Endemic-NT
28 Vernonia leopoldii (Sch. Bip.) Vatke Asteraceae Endemic-LC

I believe the proposed Gullele Botanic Garden will play an important role in the:

    • Protection and preservation of species, particularly those that are endemic and threatened;
    • Provision of educational facilities for students of botany and naturalists;
    • Propagation of threatened, and also economic species, including ornamentals;
    • Provision of facilities for the exploitation of potential economic species, in collaboration with other institutions dealing with natural resources; and
    • Provision of a rest and recreational centre for the general public.
  • Memorandum of Understanding was signed on 22 April 2005, between Addis Ababa City Administration and Addis Ababa University, to jointly develop and manage the Botanic Garden.
  • Inaugurated on 06 October 2005-10-21
  • It has taken us about 30 years to reach this stage,
  • I believe it should not take us about the same number of years to make this site a full-fledged Gullele Botanic Garden, provided all plant lovers get committed to its realization.
  • Every one of you here at this GPPC Dublin Conference, personally or through your institutions, I believe, will contribute a great deal to the realization of this objective.
  • I would like to appeal to you all to kindly provide us with all sorts of support – including financial, knowledge and skills.


  • Mayor of Addis Ababa, Mr Arkebe Ekubay and his team,
  • The President of AAU, Prof. Andreas Eshete
  • Mr Getachew Eshete, Manager of EPA of the City Administration his team,
  • Prof. Sebsebe Demissew, Mr Melaku Wondafrash and other members of ETH
  • Special thanks go to Dr Araya Asfaw, Dean of the Faculty of Science,
  • Botanic Garden Conservation International, Conservation International and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden,
  • The organisers of this GPPC Conference and Dr Louise Scally