Supporting the livelihoods of roughly one billion people worldwide, dry forests cover almost half of the world’s sub-tropical and tropical forests [1
]. Around 320 million people in Africa depend on dry forest resources [2
], the majority being from Sub-Saharan Africa [3
]. In Ethiopia, with around 55 million ha covered by dry forest, it represents the largest remaining forest vegetation in the country [4
]. The dry forests are mostly located in the country’s dry and semi-arid lowlands, where rural peoples rely on agriculture, traditional pastoralism, and agro-pastoralism as their main sources of income.
Dry forests produce a wide variety of items that play a vital role in income generation for households in developing countries [5
]. The income generated by the dry forest is greater than the sum of the income from other activities for lower income classes in the western and southeastern parts of Ethiopia [6
]. The forests also play a key role in reducing poverty and income inequality [6
]. The available products provided by the dry forest help the poorest people establish businesses that become a source of economic development and poverty alleviation while facilitating rural–urban linkage [9
]. In addition to income generation, dry forest products contribute to local food security, particularly during times of agricultural scarcity [10
]. The diversified diet of dry forest products, such as wild fruit, supplies nutrition to vulnerable communities [11
]. Furthermore, the importance of the forest on food quality among the poorer communities obtains more emphasis [12
]. Over 100 million people in both urban and rural areas are predicted to be fed by the African Miombo woodlands, the most extensive dry forest type in the African grassland and woodland ecoregion [13
]. Furthermore, the dry forest contributes to the safety net for vulnerable households by providing cheap fuels such as firewood and charcoal [16
It has been confirmed that, from theory, climate change model simulations and empirical evidence show that warmer climates lead to events of reduced annual precipitation and thereby increase the risk of drought [17
]. In an indication of the relationship between the global climate change scenario and drought incidents, studies confirmed that projected climate change impacts on drought patterns are vital to address the various risks of future droughts [18
]. The dryland regions in the Horn of Africa in general, and Ethiopia in particular, are highly affected by recurrent droughts [19
]. The increasing trend in the intensity and frequency of droughts is exacerbating the vulnerability of the communities [21
]. The majority of the vulnerable communities in the dryland region of Ethiopia reside in or near the dry forest, and, thus, its resources play a vital role by providing service, especially in the drought season [6
]. The provision of the ecosystem services provided by the dry forest is highly resistant to droughts, supporting people by improving their adaptive capacity in the face of climate change risks [23
]. The provisioning services that are commonly used by households are wild food, gum and resin, firewood, charcoal, and fodders to maintain livestock assets [25
]. There is growing evidence that dry forest ecosystem services help to reduce the sensitivity and improve the adaptive capacity of impoverished households and communities [6
]. The differences in use patterns could be due to social and economic backgrounds as well as closeness to the forest. This clearly implies that a site-specific examination of forest dependency is required before implementing policy and management interventions designed to promote sustainable resource management that are tailored to accommodate intercommunity heterogeneity.
The vital roles of dry forests in increasing income and in mitigating poverty would give additional weight to supporting climate change adaptation efforts and would contribute to combat desertification [24
]. Until recently, the dry forests in Ethiopia and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa received less attention in national and regional planning, thereby neglecting the capacity of dry forests in climate change adaptation and undervaluing their contributions to long-term environmental management [6
In international and national climate change mitigation negotiations, sustainable forest management is a key strategy that is promoted to reduce the negative impact of climate change [30
]. Dry forests contribute to the sustained provision of ecosystem goods and services that can help people to adapt to and mitigate the local consequences of the changing climate [31
]. However, dry forests have not yet attracted the same international attention as humid tropical forests [33
]. In Ethiopia, there is little empirical evidence demonstrating the actual and potential contribution of dry forests to climate change adaptation. Various studies in the region analyzed the occurrence of droughts using different climatic factors. The commonly used six global factors (the SSTAs of the tropical Indian Ocean, tropical Atlantic Ocean, tropical Pacific Ocean, Nino 3.4 region, Red Sea, and atmospheric-pressure-based SOI) and two local factors (Albedo and NDVI) confirmed the drought frequency in the Tigray Region [35
]. In the ground, the dry forests of Ethiopia are contributing a significant livelihood backup to the community during the recurrent drought occurrence as an impact of climate change. Therefore, this study depicted the socioeconomic contribution of dry forests and forest products to climate change adaptation in the Tigray Region which is one of the hotspots for the dryland forests of Ethiopia. Hence, this study contributed to the national forest policy and climate change adaptation strategy of Ethiopia.
The results of this study were presented in explanatory texts and descriptive statistics. Our results showed that the majority of the households participating in the survey believed in the existence of climate change and the significant damage from climate change on their crops and livelihoods. More importantly, the contribution of the dry forest to the livelihood of the community was revealed by their dependency on the dry forest and the frequency of their visits to access the forest and forest products.
3.1. Household Socioeconomic Characteristics
According to their places of origin, the sampled district originated from different vegetation types: from Combretum–Terminalia woodlands (30%), dry evergreen Afromontane forest (34%), and Acacia–Commiphora woodlands (36%). About 75% of the responding households were male-headed. The average household age of the respondents was 48 ± 14 years, and each respondent had resided in his/her current village for about 35 ± 19 years. On average, the walking distance from a respondent’s residence to the nearest forest boundary took about 90 min. The wealth status of the households was defined differently by the communities in all three study sub-regions.
KH: a rich status was defined as having >150 cattle, >150 sheep, and >30 ha of land; a medium status was defined as having 100–150 sheep and cattle and 10–30 ha of land; and a poor status was defined as having <5 ha of land.
AW: a rich status was defined as having paired oxen; a medium status was defined as having one ox; and a poor status was defined as not having oxen and farmland.
RA: a rich status was defined as having >3 ha of land and two pairs of oxen; a medium status was defined as having a pair of oxen; and a poor status was defined as not having oxen and land.
Based on the above community-based wealth category, only 5.4% of the households were rich, and the rest were medium (53%) or poor and very poor (41.6%). The detailed heterogeneous characteristics of the 170 households are described in Table 2
3.2. The Perception of Climate Change and Its Impacts
Participants were asked about their perception of the existence of climate change to analyze how they foresaw the importance of the dryland forest in climate change adaptation. Out of all the respondents, 92.5% (KH = 86.2%, AW = 100%, and RA = 91.5%) perceived the presence of climate change, 11.8% in KH said that they perceived no change, while 2% in KH and 8.5% in RA were not sure about the existence of climate change as shown in Figure 2
. The chi-squared statistics were significant (χ2 = 20.8, p
< 0.005) in association with Cramer’s phi statistic (ϕc
= 0.351), indicating a strong relationship between the district and the perception of climate change.
Out of all the respondents, 69% connected the presence of climate change with the decrease in the amount and intensity of rainfall; 23% connected it with the increasing temperature; and the rest connected it with irregular rainfall, wind speed, and other factors.
The chi-squared statistics showed a significant (χ2 = 60.8, p
< 0.001) association with Cramer’s phi statistic (ϕc
= 0.605), indicating a strong relationship between the district and the perception of climate change (Table 3
The respondents believed that climate change was caused by human activities, and, for example, deforestation for agricultural expansion, firewood, timber, and farm tools was believed to be the cause by 61.3%, 20.8%, 13.1%, and 4.8% of respondents, respectively. Some respondents believed in more external drivers, such as a punishment from God or natural hazards. During the focus group discussion, we identified the major recent droughts in 2003, 2011, 2012, and 2015, and flooding was identified in 2008 in the KH District. In the AW District, droughts occurred in 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2017, plus high frost occurred in 2018. Whereas, in RA, droughts occurred in 1991, 1992, 2008, and 2015. Among all of the households, about 74.5% of their livelihoods were highly affected by droughts.
More than 82% reported that crops were highly vulnerable to climate change followed by livestock production. Due to higher temperatures and low rain fall in the KH District, Sorghum bicolour
(sorghum) and Sesamum indicum
(sesame) were the most vulnerable crops; for the AW District, they were Hordeum vulgare
(barley), Triticum aestivum
(wheat), and Pisum sativum
(peas); and, for RA, they were Hordeum vulgare
(Barley), Eragrostis teff
(teff), and Sorghum bicolour
(sorghum). With an average value of 3.32 TLU, significant variations in livestock loss occurred due to drought-related risk across the three districts (Figure 3
). Of the livestock, cattle and sheep were highly vulnerable to droughts, whereas goats were relatively resistant.
From July to September, more than 52% of the respondents faced difficulties in covering their household food consumption by themselves. These months were the most severe for the AW District followed by the RA District (Figure 4
3.3. Climate Change Coping and Adaptation Strategies
The households’ climate change coping and adaptation strategies were categorized as livestock-based, crop-based, forest-based, and externally driven strategies. In these categories, sub-strategies were defined, and the households in the study sites were asked to identify which sub-strategies were applied in the context of their households. The household respondents (58.1%) reported that both off-farm (wage and petty trade) and dry forest services and goods were less affected during the drought events. The prime coping strategy used by many of the respondents in AW and RA was participation in off-farm activities (77.6% and 34.4%). Meanwhile, the livestock and crop-based (35.7% and 35.7%) strategies were used equally as prime coping strategies in KH, whereas forest-based coping strategies covered 16.7%, 14.8%, and 12.1% of the prime coping strategies in KH, RA, and AW, respectively (Table 4
Livestock-, crop-, and forest-based products were three adaptation strategies that were equally applied to reduce the impacts of climate changes in the KH District. In the AW District, off-farm activities were followed by livestock-based adaptation strategies, whereas, in the RA District, the livestock-based strategy, followed by the crop-based adaptation strategy and participation in off-farm activities, was adopted as shown in Table 5
. More than 54% of the households’ selected adaptation and coping strategies were based on their own indigenous knowledge obtained through consultation with elders and family members. Only 13% of the respondents benefited from the climate forecast/early warning information from the districts’ agricultural expertise and the media. Table 5
shows the major household adaptation strategies applied in order to reduce the impacts imposed by climate change.
3.4. Contribution of Dry Forest to Climate Change Adaptation
Overall, four major sources of income, crops, livestock, the forest, and off-farm activities (casual work and petty trade), were identified. There was a significant association between the district (Χ2
(10) = 21.27, p
< 0.05) and the income source type. The total household income source was estimated in Ethiopian Birr (ETB) in all study sites, and the results showed that the greatest sources of a household’s total income in KH (425,932.94 ETB) and RA (43,435.42 ETB) were from crop production followed by livestock, whereas in AW (298,434.51 ETB), they were from off-farm activates and the forest. There is likely a significant difference in terms of dry forest income (p
< 0.05). More than 94% of all households visited the forest at least once a month for access to it and its products. About 43.5% and 35.5% of the households collected forest products once a month followed by their collection once a week, respectively. The contribution of the dry forest to household income was about 24.4% in AW, 22.15% in KH, and 4.93% in RA (Table 6
). More than 34% of dry forest access was from women supporting their livelihoods. The dry forest was used for risk reduction, as a means of income diversification, and for saving before the onset of a drought. Similarly, based on our assessment, the dry forest also provided livestock fodder, especially during drought periods. In general, the compiled information from the households, key informant interviews, and focus group discussions confirmed that there was an increasing household dependency on dry forest income.
The contribution of each forest product was varied across vegetation types; for instance, the contribution of timber and firewood was higher in dry evergreen Afromontane
Forests than in the two vegetation types. More than 51% of the households collected forest products from state forests, and 34.7% collected from community forests. Most of the dry forest and forest products were used for timber and firewood production. Their contribution to medicine, gum and resin, and animal feed were lower compared to others (Figure 5
Overall, a total of 48 major species of dry forests were used for timber, firewood, charcoal, wild edible fruits, animal feed, gum, and incense (Appendix A
). This study confirmed that the dry forest contributed to minimizing the variation in total household incomes. The quantitative analysis of the different dry forest types showed a positive effect. The Gini coefficient depicted that forest income in the study area contributed to narrowing the gap between the line of equality and the Lorenz curve by 21% in AW, 3.02% in KH, and 3% in RA, which is illustrated in Figure 6
Generally, this study found that 53% of income from dry forests contributed to the medium wealth group, and 41% contributed to the poor. However, the dry evergreen Afromontane Forest contributed to 62% of the poor wealth group in the AW District.
3.5. Socioeconomic Factors Influencing Household Dry Forest Income
A Spearman bivariate correlation analysis showed that the level of dry evergreen Afromontane Forest income was positively and significantly correlated with income from livestock (p < 0.01) and crop production (p < 0.05) in the AW District. However, it was insignificant for off-farm activities (casual and pity trade), remittance, and direct aid and food for work programs. The income from Acacia–Commiphora woodlands was positively and significantly correlated with income from livestock production (p < 0.05), but it was negative and significantly correlated with income from direct aid and food for work programs (p < 0.05) in the RA District. Moreover, the income from Combretum–Terminalia woodlands was not significantly association with the other sources of income. However, this was positively related to livestock, remittance, and off-farm activities, but it was negatively correlated with crop production and food for work programs.
Gender, occupation, wealth status, and the distance of the forest from their houses were variables that significantly affected the income level from Combretum–Terminalia
woodlands in the KH District. The age of the respondent in RA and the family size of the household in the AW District (Table 7
) influenced dry forest income levels.
The aim of this study was to assess the socioeconomic contribution of dry forests to the local communities living in the dryland ecoregion of the Tigray Region, Ethiopia. The livelihood of the people in the study area depended on crop production, livestock rearing, forest products, and nonfarm activities (casual work and petty trade). This study indicated that the community relied on the dry forest for construction materials, fuel wood collection, gum and resin, wild fruit, honey, and charcoal. Our findings confirmed that dry forest products played an important role in the livelihoods of the households and in poverty alleviation in the dryland area, where droughts are common phenomena and are expected to be recurrent as climate change exacerbates the situation. The study results emphasized the increasing role of dry forests for coping and adaptation strategies, especially during the recurrent drought period when crop and livestock production were declining. Additionally, their role is increasingly important in filling the seasonal income gaps in this period. Despite the important role of dry forests, this study revealed that increasing pressure, due to recurrent droughts and population increases, will exacerbate forest degradation.
The current findings had broad policy implications, especially since the study revealed the critical role of dry forest income in the livelihood of the community and in climate change adaptation. If dry forest income is not considered in household incomes, the poverty headcount ratio and income inequality rise. Better management of dry forests is crucial for improving livelihoods while also ensuring long-term adaptation roles. Promoting their integration into national, regional, and local development planning can help to improve the sustainability of the dry forest. Various options are needed to find a balance between the increasing role of dry forests in climate change adaptation and forest degradation. For instance, policymakers can reduce the pressure on dry forests by introducing agroforestry systems and by establishing farmer cooperation in commercializing non-timber forest products such as gum and resin. Finally, more research is needed to understand the increasing role of dry forest products in climate change adaptation over time and to understand their contribution to the national economy at large.