March 23, 2012, Ziway, Ethiopia – Tadesse Hailu (right), Program Officer for Counterpart partner agency the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society (EWNHS), and Abbe Edao, Chairperson of the Beshera Chafa Peasant Association, speak with community members in the village of Beshera Chafa. EWNHS, a partner of Counterpart International, is helping the local residents to preserve their soil by closing more than 10 hectares of land to grazing and wood cutting, an effort supported by the local government.

The village of Beshera Chafa in Ethiopia’s Central Rift Valley is turning a wasteland into a profit center.

“We felt sad even looking at this area because it was so barren. You couldn’t see grass or trees or animals,” says Abbe Edao, Chairperson of the Beshera Chafa Peasant Association.

A year ago, Counterpart’s Ethiopian Ecotourism Development Program teamed with this community to rehabilitate 1,000 hectares (nearly 2,500 acres) in an area badly degraded by overgrazing, drought and erosion.

Edao and eight other villagers were elected to decide what to do with the community conservation area. They chose to close off the worst parts and let nature take over.

One year later, the trees look healthy. Hares hop and oribi gazelles run through the tall grasses.

The conservation area is now managed and monitored by a Resource User Group, or RUG – about 25 community members. The men and women are responsible for protecting the demarcated land. If cattle or unauthorized people enter, the RUG may enforce a fine of 10 birr, or 57 cents – half of which goes to the RUG members.

Once the land is rehabilitated, members of the RUG gain user rights, with the opportunity to begin sustainable income-generating activities, like beekeeping or selling the grass.

“It is only through this one year that we’ve seen all this change. And we hope that next year the trees will grow taller, the grass will grow taller, and my community will benefit from the land,” Edao says.