Accepted Paper:

Perceptions of knowledge, technology and partnership: exploring development cooperation in a Ethiopian forest conservation project  


Frida Bjørneseth (Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI))

Paper short abstract:

Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Ethiopia, this paper explores how local faith communities cooperate with international development actors, utilizing theology and technology, to shape and preserve what is known as the Ethiopian Afromontane 'church forests'.

Paper long abstract:

Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Ethiopia, this paper explores how local faith communities, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC), and international development organizations cooperate to define knowledge and practices of forest conservation. By following a church forest conservation-project in northern Ethiopia, in which both international faith-based organizations, and the EOC are central stakeholders, this paper explores the intersections of local and international articulations of technology, knowledge, and sustainable development.

The church forests of Ethiopia represent some of the last representatives of Highland and Afromontane forests types in the country, making them an important source of biodiversity in the region. While increasing land cultivation and human settlement has gradually reduced the scope of the forests, the EOC and its monastic communities have long been part of preserving the remaining green areas. As larger international environmental and forest conservation initiatives - such as the UN-REDD - emerge on a global level, local knowledges of conservation are now faced with the practices of professionalized development organizations.

The forest conservation initiative aims to integrate both Orthodox theological reflections, modern technologies such as GIS mapping and the creation of seed banks, as well as economically oriented livelihoods-projects. What happens when historically and theologically rooted practices of forest conservation meet the agendas of NGOs driven by innovation and sustainable development? And how are perceptions of 'knowledge' articulated and negotiated in this process, and how does this shape the stakeholders' notions of 'development' and 'partnership'?

Panel His33
Knowledge contest: global development and local survival