Ethiopia: Intensifying Efforts for Healthy Environment –

by Zelalem

Planting trees during the Ethiopian rainy season has almost become a national culture. This year the nation would plant 4.3 billion seedlings on one million hectares of degraded land thought the country.

People in all walks of life including government officials, public servants, students and community members are planting seedlings in areas already designated by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The campaign is part of the nation’s bid to increase the country’s forest coverage from current 15.5 per cent to 30 per cent over the next 15 years.

Ethiopia’s forest coverage has been alarmingly depleted over the last thousands of years indicating the nation’s heavy dependence on forest resources. The population both in the urban and rural areas depended on natural forests not only for fuel but also for other human needs like shelter, food and for the acquisition of a number of items like herbal medicines.

In Ethiopia, during the nineteenth century and beyond, warlords competing among themselves for power used forest resources to meet the needs of their armies which were in constant mobility to strengthen their power by grabbing as much land area as possible. Such armies feel millions of irreplaceable natural forest trees which continued to affect the rain pattern and the entire balance of the ecosystem. This was particularly true of the era in Ethiopian history known as the Zemene Mesafint (Era of Princes)

Besides, the traditional land tenure system, particularly in the northern parts of the country, commonly known as ‘rist or atseme rist’ allowed for sharing of plots of land among the descendants of families thus leading to continuous fragmentation of farmlands which resulted in the erosion of the top soil. Over grazing on areas adjacent to farmlands, burning of farm plots for clearing compounded with lack of knowledge on modern farming techniques resulted in total disruption of the balance of nature by complicating the symbiotic co-existence between the natural flora and fauna.

In the peripheral areas of the country, burning down thousands of hectares of land in search of wild honey resulted in total destruction of indigenous natural herbs and trees which grow only in Ethiopia. Millions of wild animals, some of which are found only in Ethiopia had to flee to the neighbouring countries from their natural habitat due to extreme human interference into the natural ecosystem once favoured by our wild animals.

The cumulative effect of the entire above mentioned phenomenon resulted in recurrent and devastating drought in the country. Rivers, springs and huge amount of surface water resources perished due to the drought situation which expanded into hitherto fertile parts of the country. The recent El-Nino and La-Nina incidents are yet other indicators of the resultant effects of climate change which is also pronounced at the global level.

The national effort in restoring the biodiversity of the country, among other things, requires a national campaign of attitudinal change towards the importance of maintaining biodiversity and forest coverage as a major requirement for the survival of the entire Ethiopian population. It is quite disgusting to see some residents of Addis Ababa pick on recently planted seedlings for tooth picks or for cleaning their teeth.

Thousands of tree seedlings planted in the past have perished due to the extreme carelessness of citizens in our urban centres. While responsible citizens and government ministries are busy planting seedlings, some citizens are regrettably busy uprooting tree seedlings that have been planted in the recent past. While such actions are tolerated indefinitely, law enforcement bodies and all citizens need to take all necessary actions.

The issue of mainstreaming biodiversity in all development sectors of the country has already been stressed and probably over stressed. However, except for tree planting campaigns that are conducted every year at this time, no meaningful coordination is so far in sight.

To what extent are the government’s ministries like the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Institute of Biodiversity and Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority are working together? What action oriented impacts can we cite in the fiscal year that has just ended? What new researches regarding biodiversity have we witnessed this year? To what extent are such researches applicable? These are some of the issues that can be considered if we are serious enough to restore the nation’s biodiversity.

Ethiopia has set a bold national target of reducing current green house gas emission to 250 metric tons by 2030. Is the nation currently in pace with the target set? The country is a signatory to major international instruments like the Rio Agreement on Biodiversity, International Treaty on Plants Genetic Resources for Food and Agricultural Diversification. To what extent is the country benefiting and contributing to such international efforts?

Ethiopia along with 171 countries has signed the Paris Climate Agreement. This agreement which was adopted last December at COP21 in Paris by the 196 Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, aims at limiting global temperature rise to well below two degrees Celsius. As one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, Ethiopia has all the structural and resource base to reverse the effects of climate change on the country and the current tree planting campaign needs to be effectively mainstreamed in the entire national programme of the battle against climate change.

Tree planting at household and community level could be linked with the nation’s food security programmes by encouraging planting fruit trees which could generate income and also serve as sheds for planting vegetables and root crops with good nutritional content.

When it comes to sustainability, ownership and sustenance of planted seedlings and trees is a critical issue that requires a concerted attention by all concerned. The nation needs to come up with a participatory strategy that particularly focuses on ascertaining a viable operational mechanism that could contribute to ensuring the sustainability of the tree seedlings that are already planed and the ones which are currently been planted. It is very important to track down the growth rate of the planted trees and prepare a catalogue of history of the tree seedlings planted at each site. The sites can be registered at each locality and the need to be owned by those who planted the trees and community members in the area.

The youth currently engaged in the tree planting campaign need to exploit this opportunity to make the campaign a learning forum to help them blend theoretical knowledge with practical activity.

Apart from the existing government institutions and NGO forums, the nation needs to organize grass roots community based environmental protection societies in which the entire community members can register for membership. This can be supplemented with the activities of thousands of school clubs and child parliaments throughout the country.

With the efforts of every citizen, governmental and private institutions, it is quite possible to boost the nation’s forest coverage from current level to over 40 per cent in the coming two decades. Given the countries fast growth in its climate resilient economy, optimism in making Ethiopia a showcase for protection and sustenance of the natural environment. Planting a single tree seedling is planting life and helping to reconcile the age old alienation between man and nature.

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