International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation

International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation

INBAR in Conversation with Ashebir Wondimu Zeleke

22 Jun 2020

INBAR speaks to Ashebir Wondimu Zeleke, who served as INBAR’s focal person in the Ethiopian government for four years, about his experiences.

As an intergovernmental organisation, INBAR exists in large part to support its network of 46 Member States (as of June 2020) to sustainably develop and manage their bamboo and rattan resources and promote the well-being of bamboo and rattan producers and consumers. Achieving this mission would not be possible without the dedicated support of national focal points, designated authorities which are often ministries in Member State governments, and focal people, individuals within these organisations nominated to act as a first point of contact between the relevant government and INBAR. We interviewed Ashebir Wondimu Zeleke, currently Technical Officer for INBAR’s Dutch-Sino-East Africa Bamboo Development Phase II Programme, about his four-year stint as INBAR’s focal person for Ethiopia when employed by the Ethiopian Environment, Forest and Climate Change Commission.

Ashebir holds a MSc Degree in Climate Change and Development and a BSc Degree in Forestry, both from Hawassa University, Wondo Genet College of Forestry & Natural Resources. He has been working in the Ethiopian forestry sector for many years.

Welcome to INBAR, Ashebir!  When did you first hear about INBAR?

In 2012, I joined the Ethiopia branch of SOS Sahel, an international NGO with programmes including participatory forest management. I had been interested in bamboo for several years, but had never received any formal training. Luckily for me, when we identified bamboo as one of the most important non-timber forest products in the country as part of our work, I was able to get into contact with senior forestry professionals and with experts who received training from INBAR, who sent me some valuable material. This was when I first started to know more about INBAR.

Ethiopian bamboo poles

How did this lead to you becoming INBAR’s focal person in Ethiopia?

Back in 2014, I started work at what was then called the Ethiopian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (now known as the Ethiopian Environment, Forest and Climate Change Commission). My director was at that point the focal person for INBAR, which represented a great opportunity for me to learn more about bamboo, improve my own knowledge and promote this important resource in the area. My enthusiasm for the subject was clear to see, and two years later I was nominated to take up the job of focal person in addition to my day-to-day tasks.

As Focal Person for INBAR, Ashebir was nominated by the Ethiopian government to travel to China and learn more about the Chinese bamboo industry as part of the INBAR Scholarship Programme in 2019

What was this experience like in the day to day?

The job wasn’t easy: I was in regular contact with INBAR staff, as well as with INBAR’s many institutional partners in the region and with many other people at a time when both interest in bamboo and the volume of work involved were growing significantly. I was the first point of contact for people from the private sector, universities, and the public. It was a big time commitment – I often had to arrange meetings in the evenings or weekends.  But I do feel that INBAR staff supported me every step of the way with smooth, positive communication and even the use of the INBAR vehicle to travel to appointments.

What impact did your work with INBAR make during this time?

Firstly, I can mention the impact on me personally. It was because of INBAR that I began to gain better understanding, awareness and exposure to high-level bamboo products, and their management and transformation. Awareness about bamboo and its untapped potential has risen in Ethiopia because of INBAR’s work. There are many major concrete examples of INBAR’s work in Ethiopia through the projects that have been implemented there, from the employment opportunities afforded to bamboo farmers to the research that INBAR funded in the country, with publications on bamboo resource mapping, value chain analysis and market assessment for bamboo products, technical training manuals and other materials making up a key part of INBAR’s project results. Finally, INBAR’s support towards Ethiopia’s Bamboo Development Strategy and Action Plan laid a good foundation to guide the development of the country’s bamboo sub-sector.

How have you seen the bamboo sector in Ethiopia change over your career?

Ethiopia has a huge area of unmanaged bamboo forests and space to expand the existing resource base, which puts the country in a generally favourable position to develop a bamboo industry when compared to its African neighbours. However, compared to the top bamboo growing and processing countries, Ethiopia is limited in its bamboo processing and utilisation.  most still at the traditional, handmade and household-produced stage.

However, the Ethiopian bamboo industry has shown progressive change over the past decade, with new cottage industries established. Only very few bamboo industries are active in Ethiopia, but I believe they deserve to get government support to grow more. Many interested private sector entities both domestic and international are interested in investing in the bamboo industry [INBAR organised an investor tour which visited Ethiopia in 2019.]

What challenges does Ethiopia’s bamboo industry face? What are the biggest opportunities?

Ashebir (left) with clumping bamboo in Ethiopia

The biggest challenges are lack of coordination and integration among bamboo value chain actors. But I can see a lot of opportunities: Ethiopia is strategically located to access the global market for bamboo products, and there is such a huge resource base. Domestic demand for this type of product is also growing.

What are you most excited about?

I can’t just pick one thing! I am excited about bamboo’s potential to be a solution to so many of my region’s and the world’s needs: social, environmental, economic, climate change…  the list goes on! As a material, bamboo itself is so versatile: it’s exciting just how many products can be made with bamboo. And finally, the plant itself grows so fast: It can give you a short-term economic boost whilst also providing a longer-term solution.

Thanks to Ashebir for taking the time to answer our questions. To find out more about INBAR’s Dutch-Sino-East Africa Bamboo Development Phase II Programme, click here. To read more about INBAR’s work in Ethiopia, click here