A man of fire bringing land back to life

24 September 2020

Ethiopian community embraces restoration guided by one man’s vision

I first met Aba Hawi in 2014, at his home in a remote village in the north of Ethiopia. His story amazed me so much that I turned it into a documentary film!

His real name is Gebre-Michael, but locals call him Aba Hawi, which stands for ‘man of fire’. Over the last 30 years he has mobilized his community to completely regenerate their land.

When he first started this work his community ostracized him, as they failed to see that protecting their trees was fundamental to the continued existence of their livelihoods. They even accused him of spying for the rebel army who at that time were fighting the national government. But eventually his efforts paid off. Villages that were on the verge of collapse after years of drought and land over-use are now thriving and self-sufficient. Thanks to his conservation work, once barren hillsides are today covered with forests, cereal crops grow where previously there was only degraded soil, and most importantly, water has returned to the wells. Aba Hawi’s ability to motivate and mobilize an entire community to stay on and restore their landscape surely makes him a worthy Landscape Hero.