Drought-hit Ethiopia moves to pro­tect its dwin­dling forests

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Ethiopia is en­list­ing the co­op­er­a­tion of peo­ple in and around its forests to man­age wood­land bet­ter, hop­ing to pro­tect the coun­try from the ef­fects of cli­mate change while boost­ing de­vel­op­ment prospects for its pop­u­la­tion of 100 mil­lion. The gov­ern­ment of Africa’s sec­ond most pop­u­lous coun­try has set an am­bi­tious aim of re­duc­ing poverty and be­com­ing a car­bon-neu­tral econ­omy by 2025, in part by trans­form­ing the way ru­ral land­scapes are man­aged.

Its Cli­mate Re­silient Green Econ­omy strat­egy aims to meet half of its tar­get re­duc­tion in car­bon emis­sions by adding 5 mil­lion hectares (12.4 mil­lion acres) of forests by 2020 - just three years from now - and restor­ing 22 mil­lion hectares of de­graded land­scapes by 2030.

The gov­ern­ment sees adding forests as a key way to both curb cli­mate change and help the coun­try adapt to and deal with strong cli­mate change im­pacts, in­clud­ing droughts, said Yit­betu Mo­ges, the na­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tive for REDD+ (Re­duc­ing Emis­sions from De­for­esta­tion and For­est Degra­da­tion) at Ethiopia’s Min­istry of Forestry, En­vi­ron­ment and Cli­mate Change. With wa­ter re­sources un­der ever greater stress due to the coun­try’s ris­ing pop­u­la­tion, forests are im­por­tant to main­tain­ing sta­ble rain­fall and build­ing drought re­silience, while the car­bon they store reduces emis­sions to the en­vi­ron­ment, Mo­ges said.

Start­ing in Oro­mia

Ac­cord­ing to the min­istry, the big­gest for­est con­ser­va­tion pro­grams are tak­ing place in Oro­mia, which is home to a third of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion. The 10-year Oro­mia Forested Land­scape Pro­gram (OFLP), which is get­ting un­der­way this year, is a com­mu­nity-cen­tered pro­gram for sus­tain­able for­est man­age­ment.

The project, with an ini­tial $18 mil­lion of fund­ing from the World Bank, aims to re­duce de­for­esta­tion and lower net green­house gas emis­sions re­sult­ing from land use. The pro­gram’s first pilot project launched in early May in the Chilimo For­est Re­serve, one of the last rem­nants of a dry, moun­tain­ous for­est that once cov­ered Ethiopia’s cen­tral plateau. Lo­cated 90 km (56 miles) west of Ad­dis Ababa, the for­est cur­rently cov­ers about 5,000 hectares (12,300 acres), down from 12,000 hectares (29,600 acres) in the 1980s, mainly as a re­sult of log­ging in the early 1990s, of­fi­cials say.

Un­der the pro­gram, lo­cal com­mu­nity co­op­er­a­tives have been given the right to pro­tect and man­age the for­est, which faces en­croach­ing pop­u­la­tion pres­sure and il­le­gal log­ging, and de­cide on how to use the ben­e­fits ac­crued from it. The pro­gram en­cour­ages co­op­er­a­tive mem­bers to har­vest stalks and other crop residue from fields for fuel, in­stead of us­ing wood, and cul­ti­vate wild honey and crops like green pep­per, onion and pota­toes, which can be grown within the for­est lim­its with­out re­quir­ing sig­nif­i­cant de­for­esta­tion.

Com­mu­ni­ties are also urged to plant fast-grow­ing, non-na­tive trees such as eu­ca­lyp­tus to har­vest for tim­ber or medic­i­nal pur­poses as a way of gen­er­at­ing in­come. Degu Wold­e­gior­gis, a lo­cal com­mu­nity leader, is a mem­ber of one of 12 for­est as­so­ci­a­tions, rep­re­sent­ing 3,000 res­i­dents around Chilimo, that will par­tic­i­pate in manag­ing the for­est.

He said the com­mu­nity’s de­ci­sion to help pre­serve the Chilimo re­serve is the re­sult of see­ing the prob­lems other com­mu­ni­ties have faced af­ter de­stroy­ing their forests. “The for­est is our life. We get many ben­e­fits from the for­est,” he said. Wold­e­gior­gis said his com­mu­nity has com­mit­ted to plant­ing three tree seedlings per com­mu­nity mem­ber on de­for­ested land each year.

Stephen Danyo, an ex­pert in nat­u­ral re­sources man­age­ment with the World Bank’s Ethiopia of­fice, said the forestry man­age­ment scheme aims not just to se­cure in­comes for lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties but to pro­tect wa­ter re­sources for down­stream com­mu­ni­ties as well. “For­est is worth pro­tect­ing and ex­pand­ing be­cause for­est not only pro­vides jobs and liveli­hoods, it pro­vides wa­ter se­cu­rity, it pro­vides food se­cu­rity, it pro­vides cli­mate se­cu­rity,” he said. Mo­ges said pro­tect­ing forests would also help en­sure more sta­ble har­vests by pro­tect­ing wa­ter sup­plies - a ma­jor con­cern in a coun­try where the gov­ern­ment says 7.8 mil­lion Ethiopi­ans face food short­ages as a re­sult of cli­mate change-re­lated drought and land degra­da­tion.

“Agri­cul­ture will ben­e­fit as it will be less im­pacted by cli­mate change shocks, cre­at­ing cli­mate sta­bil­ity, in ad­di­tion to the for­est’s well-known touris­tic ben­e­fits,” he said. The gov­ern­ment es­ti­mates that about 15.5 per­cent of Ethiopia is cov­ered in forests - but the coun­try is los­ing 92,000 hectares (227,000 acres) of for­est an­nu­ally, and only 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres) are be­ing re­planted, Mo­ges said.

He said that to pro­tect more forests young Ethiopi­ans need to learn about the value of for­est con­ser­va­tion in school, from pri­mary level on­ward. Wold­e­gior­gis, on the other hand, thinks tougher pun­ish­ments for il­le­gal log­gers in the Chilimo For­est Re­serve are needed. He said that log­gers caught by his or­gan­i­sa­tion and handed over to the au­thor­i­ties have re­ceived what he sees as le­nient prison sen­tences of only a few months.

Mo­ges also thinks some of Ethiopia’s ru­ral pop­u­la­tion needs to move to its cities to bet­ter pro­tect forests and other land as the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion expands. More than 80 per­cent of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion lives in ru­ral ar­eas, adding to the pres­sure on forests, he said. “Na­tional plan­ning is needed with re­gards to pop­u­la­tion pres­sure to re­lieve pres­sure on land. But we also have to en­sure to­day’s chil­dren can mi­grate to cities, learn in good schools, be em­ployed in in­dus­tries, and open up busi­ness,” he said.

Danyo said such strate­gies need to start work­ing soon, or Ethiopia may strug­gle to hold onto its re­main­ing forests as pop­u­la­tion pres­sures grow. “There’s not much left in Ethiopia of the old, na­tive, orig­i­nal for­est. It’s dis­ap­pear­ing quickly,” he said. “Pro­tect­ing forests is not just be­cause peo­ple love trees and forests but be­cause it’s im­por­tant for poverty re­duc­tion, jobs, wa­ter se­cu­rity en­ergy and agri­cul­ture.” Mo­ges said he sees pro­tect­ing forests as crit­i­cal to the coun­try’s fu­ture suc­cess. “A pros­per­ous Ethiopia is one that pro­tects its for­est re­sources. Pre­serv­ing forests is cre­at­ing pros­per­ity,” he said. —Reuters

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