Tewolde Behran Grebe Egziabher

Dr Tewolde Berhan was born on 19 February 1940 in a small village near Adwa town in Tigray Region of northern Ethiopia. His father was an Orthodox priest and his mother the daughter of one of the founders of the Lutheran Church of Mekane Yesus who had originally been trained for priesthood in the Orthodox church. Both parents put a strong emphasis on education and Tewolde's fathers taught him to be fluent in Ge'ez, the ancient Semitic language of Ethiopia, and Amharic as well as his mother tongue, Tigrinya, before he started formal schooling.

>He joined Elementary School when he was 11 years old and then won a scholarship to the General Wingate School in Addis Ababa in 1955. On joining Addis Ababa University in 1959, he decided to study science rather than languages and was granted the Chancellor's Gold Medal when he graduated with a B.Sc. in Biology in 1963. In 1966, he left to study for a doctorate in plant ecology at the School of Plant Biology, University of North Wales, and returned as Ethiopia's first qualified plant ecologist in 1969.

From the time he graduated in 1963 until 1995, Dr Tewolde's academic base was in the Department of Biology of Addis Ababa University. His main responsibilities inside academia have been as Dean of the Faculty of Science from 1974 to 1978, and then Keeper of the National Herbarium from 1978 to 1983. It was during this period that the Ethiopian Flora Project was launched. This Project had twin aims: to develop a national capacity in plant systematics and a competent national institution for research and services in this field, and also to publish a modern Flora for the country. The first part of this aim has been achieved with the National Herbarium now having a senior staff of four doctorates in systematic botany, three in plant ecology, and an editorial office. The second aim of producing an eight volume Flora is still being realized with four volumes in print and two more in press. It was Dr Tewolde's foresight and planning that enabled this long-term project to be both successfully negotiated and maintained.

Dr Tewolde's other major post in academia was as President of Asmara University in what is now the independent country of Eritrea. During that period, he successfully negotiated a substantial grant for the development of tertiary science education, particularly in the applied fields of arid-zone agriculture, marine science, geology and some aspects of engineering.

His career has also involved responsibilities outside academia. Between 1972 and 1982 he was leader of the IDRC-UNU sponsored research project "Research and Development in Rural Settings". Ethiopia was one of six countries which contributed to this international Project. In 1991, he left Asmara University to take up the post of Director for the Ethiopian National Conservation Strategy Secretariat. During the four years he was in post, a National Conservation Strategy was developed and debated in a participatory manner at all the main levels of government culminating in a National Conference where the final draft documents were debated and amended before being submitted to the Government for approval. As from March 1995, Dr Tewolde has been the General Manager for Ethiopia's environmental watchdog, the Environmental Protection Authority.

Internationally, Dr Tewolde participated in the negotiations for the Convention on Biological Diversity, finalized in 1992. He led the African and Like-Minded Group in negotiations for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety finally agreed in January 2000 and was a Bureau member for the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture agreed in FAO in November 2001. He has also worked with the African Union (previously the Organization of African Unity) in the development of two model laws: one for the Protection of the Rights of Communities, Farmers and Breeders, and for the Control of Access to Biological Resources, and the other called the African Model Law for Safety in Biotechnology.

In December 2000, Dr Tewolde was awarded a Right Livelihood Award for his leadership in the biosafety negotiations, and for his work in developing and promoting community and farmers’ rights.

His responsibilities in government have involved him in representing Ethiopia in several international fora as well as preparing official documents and reports. The following are the most significant:

  • Ethiopian Country Report for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), 1992.
  • Ethiopian representative in the UNCED negotiating team in Geneva, New York and Rio de Janeiro; played important roles in developing the chapter on Mountains Development, Chapter 13 of Agenda 21, 1991-92.
  • Co-Chairman, Panel 4, established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to study the issue of biosafety and biotechnology as a follow-up of the Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992-93.
  • Negotiator for Ethiopia, Convention on Biological Diversity and in the debate of the developing countries on biodiversity and biotechnology, 1992 to date, and Convention on Desertification, 1994 to date.
  • Chief negotiator (spokesperson) of the African Group, and Bureau Member in the Revision of the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, 1997-to date.
  • Ethiopia’s negotiator, chief negotiator (spokesperson) of the African and Like-Minded Group and Bureau Member in the Biosafety Working Group negotiations on a Biosafety Protocol for the Convention on Biological Diversity, 1996, to when it was concluded in January 2000.

Dr Tewolde has produced over 30 publications from both original research and analysis of interactions between society and environment in Ethiopia's history as well as internationally.

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Centro de Estudos Sociais MacArthur Foundation
Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian