By Mary Graham

On 22 February 2022

Help save the Frankincense trees of northern Ethiopia

Trees are disappearing, land is becoming infertile and the desert is spreading across northern Ethiopia. The Metema forest, which lies at the very edge of the desert, is the last bulwark of ‘green belt’ in an increasingly arid land. Research suggests that without intervention, it will have disappeared in little over 20 years, meaning a collapse not just of the eco-system but of the local economy.

The Metema forest is known for its frankincense trees. Frankincense resin, along with myrrh, has been used in religious ritual for thousands of years, and in Christian worship it is the key ingredient in incense, symbolising prayer rising up to Heaven.

For millennia, frankincense was sustainably produced. But in our modern world the resin is increasingly in demand, not just for use in incense for religious services but in popular aromatherapy oils and candles. As demand has grown, so has the pressure on producers – especially when the price paid for resin is often pitifully low. The temptation is to over-tap the trees, making multiple cuts in the bark and collecting the resin year-round – a practice that means trees have no chance to recover and often die. Yet these trees are among the very few that can grow in the hot, dry conditions of northern Ethiopia, and if they die, livelihoods die with them.

Communities and the frankincense forest can thrive together, however. Through its Metema forest project, the charity Tree Aid is supporting local people with the tools and training they need to use frankincense trees sustainably and protect them and the forest for the future. In doing this, they are contributing to the Great Green Wall, an initiative to stop the encroaching desert, bring degraded landscapes back to life, and create sustainable incomes for people living in poverty across the Horn of Africa.  

Tree Aid estimates that it costs £10 to plant one Frankincense tree and provide the training and support to nurture it for the future. We’d like to raise the funds to help them plant and nurture 200 trees – more, if we can manage it – through our six-week Lent Project. In doing so, we will be helping the charity as it supports almost 9,000 households currently struggling to make a living, as well as contributing to the 10,000 hectares of degraded forest being restored.

Our Lent Project launches on Sunday 6 March. Do please support it if you can.

Donations can be made direct to the Mission in Action account, using the reference ‘Lent 2022’. Bank details are on the Home page of the Mission in Action section of this website.

Thank you.

Mission in Action team

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