Guardians of the Forest

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC), an indigenous and integral Christian Church of Africa, is one of the oldest Churches in the world. In addition to its religious role, the EOTC has also a long history of conservation of forest resources, which usually envelop the churches. Out of more than 70,000 Churches, around 35,000 Churches are believed to be covered with Church forests. These Churches have protected and conserved their forests for the last several centuries and at the same time; they have contributed their traditional knowledge and hard work to ensure the provision of cultural and ecological ecosystem services for generations. Although the main purpose of Churches is as places for worship, burials, and meditating religious festivals, they also provide valuable, often unique, and secured habitats for plants and animals, and green spaces for people. These Church forests are managed and protected by monks, nuns, clergies, and communities residing in and around the Church.

Apart from their pivotal role as spiritual sanctuaries, Church forests provide an important ecosystem and serve as conservation sites for a large portion of Ethiopia’s endemic biodiversity. Church forests also hold opportunities as incubators for improved ecosystem management beyond Church boundaries and contribute to surrounding communities’ livelihoods and resilience to climate change.

Studies show that Church forests are diminishing due to encroachment for timber production and lack of proper management.