It has been far too long since I last updated the Blog site, apologies.
I hardly dare say that it looks as if at last we are reaching a resolution regarding the final land issues that were hampering progress.
To say it has been a trying few months is something of an understatement! Without boring readers too much, during all the negotiations that led up to the signing of the land agreement back in April 2009, at no time was there any mention that some farmers had land claims on any of our site. The Ministry of National Defence that had made the initial agreement to hand back the land to the Regional State of Oromiya had no knowledge of these land claims, nor did the Oromiya Land Bureau. It may simply be a case of the local land administration issuing farming certificates without the knowledge of the main regional office.
There were two practical options. One option would be for us to begin an expensive and time consuming law case. If the courts found in our favour we would gain the whole site and definitely lose the support of some of the local farmers. The second option was to find alternative land on which the farmers could graze their cattle.
Our international patron, His Excellency, President Girma Wolde Giorgis agreed to speak with the Honourable Takele Uma, Mayor of Holeta, and the Municipality of Holeta subsequently indentified some common land to give away. In order to make up the shortfall, Born Free Foundation has agreed to let go four of our original 77 hectares.
On Monday 9 November, Bereket and I met the Mayor and Holeta GIS expert and we staked out the new boundary to the site. The land we have given away is a twice-cropped Eucalyptus plantation. I have made sure that the boundary is set 4 metres into the plantation so our boundary fence will be screened by vegetation.
Tomorrow, Bereket will employ a team of local labourers (some will be the same farmers who have just been given land) and start the construction of a fenced area in the centre of the site. This fence will surround the shipping container we have already purchased in order to provide a secure area for the tools and materials needed for the next phases of construction. The last time we attempted to build the secure area fence, some farmers claiming compensation appeared and threatened Bereket and myself. I immediately cancelled all construction work until the compensation issue was resolved. The farmers have said they are very happy with their new land and have said they will now support the project fully. Tomorrow is the test. I will keep you posted.
On a lighter note, I enclose two photos of the site security guard team that has been guarding the site to prevent unlawful tree-felling throughout the land compensation negotiations. All credit to Mayor Feyissa, our head of security, who has trained an excellent team of 15 guards with the result that no trees have been felled during the past two months. The security team are all from the local community showing a direct benefit from the Wildlife Centre. They are a brave team as they carry only sticks when the majority of local farmers (and timber thieves) have Kalashnikov AK47 semi-automatic rifles or other ex-military weapons.
With eager anticipation, the team took turns to be measured by a local tailor and last week I issued each man with his field uniform. (In case anyone wants the details, each man has been given two shirts, two pairs of trousers, two pairs of socks, one pair of boots, one rain cape, one cap, and one light jacket. I am searching for some thick jackets as the nights are very cold at this time of year.)
So, here’s a photo of the team before and after they nipped behind the bushes and returned in their uniforms. Quite a transformation even though not all the boots fitted first time around.
More news soon, and please do remember we need your sponsorship for the animals, for the construction and even the uniforms.