By Arabella Stewart

Published in What’s Out Addis magazine

Living in Addis you cannot fail to notice women hunched over carrying bundles of twigs and tree branches especially when driving up and down Entoto…. There are an estimated 15,000 women who rely on collecting and selling wood for fuel in the hills above Addis. An estimated 30% of fuel consumed in Addis comes from wood from these women. This wood consumption has resulted in an environmental crisis; during the course of the 20th century, forests dwindled from covering 35% of land to covering just 3%! Currently there are major tree planting schemes in place and thankfully during the past decade, the woodlands of Ethiopia have begun to grow back now covering an estimated 9% of the land.

What is good for the environment however is not good for the women who have relied on this livelihood as their sole source of income and many environmental guards now protect wooded areas. The life of a fuel wood worker is hard and typically begins before dawn and involves walking 30 kms per day gathering wood and selling it at market. In many cases these women carry bundles that often weigh more than they do, earning on average 12 birr per bundle

At the foot of the mountain however, there is a local NGO called the Women Fuel Wood Carriers Project, which has been working hard to provide support for these women. While the ideal scenario is that there will be alternative situations for all these women, the reality is that while the demand remains, women will continue with this work; the charity provides these women with carts, cargo tricycles and shoulder harnesses to at least ease the strain of the loads they carry. “For every woman who leaves this work, there will be another one to replace her,” says Alemayehu Gebrehiwot a spokeswoman for the WFCP. “Fuel wood trading needs no skill or investment except in physical effort and time”. She advocates that the best scenario would be for these women and the government to become partners in good forest management – both keeping the forest growing and the women alive with plantation management systems that recognise and integrate Fuel Wood Carrier.

The charity does help and encourage those women who do stop wood carrying providing them with alternative incomes including weaving baskets, scarves and baskets. Some of these women are set up to perform these tasks in their own homes while others do this in the WFCP workshop (signposted on a side road off the main road to Entoto past Shiro Meda just before the last shops) with an onsite day care centre for these women and those women who remain as carriers.

The multi­coloured scarves sell well especially at the monthly NGO bazaars and the workshop also welcomes customers where you can observe first­hand weaving of scarves ­ you will be spoilt for choice with colours and styles on offer in the shop including Netellas and Gabis! The proceeds from sales goes towards supporting the whole community of women fuel workers and is money well spent.

The Women Fuel Wood Carriers Project 011 1236370

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