Africa > East Africa > Ethiopia > Ethiopia: Drought-Hit Ethiopia Moves to Protect Its Dwindling Forests

Ethiopia: Ethiopia: Drought-Hit Ethiopia Moves to Protect Its Dwindling Forests

2017/07/12

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 people 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 presently - 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 transaction with strong climate change impacts, inclunding 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 better stress due to the country's rising people, forests are significant 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 programmes are taking place in Oromia, which is home to a third of the country's people.

The 10-year Oromia Forested Landscape Programme (OFLP), which is getting underway this year, is a community-centered programme 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 programme's initial 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 programme, local community cooperatives have been given the right to protect and manage the forest, which faces encroaching people pressure and illegal logging, and decide on how to use the benefits accrued from it.

The programme 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 as well urged to plant fast-growing, non-native trees such as eucalyptus to harvest for timber or medicinal purposes as a way of generating gain.

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 next destroying their forests.

"The forest is our life. We get a lot of 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.

BENEFITS DOWNSTREAM

Stephen Danyo, an expert in natural resources management with the World Bank's Ethiopia office, said the forestry management scheme aims not just to fasten 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 as well help ensure additional 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 % 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 additional forests young Ethiopians need to learn about the price 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.

POPULATION PRESSURE

Moges as well thinks some of Ethiopia's rural people needs to move to its cities to better protect forests and other land as the country's people expands. Additional than 80 % of the country's people lives in rural areas, adding to the pressure on forests, he said.

"National planning is needed with regards to people pressure to relieve pressure on land. But we as well 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 any minute at this time, or Ethiopia may struggle to hold onto its remaining forests as people 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 significant for poverty reduction, jobs, water security energy and agriculture."

Moges said he sees protecting forests as critical to the country's next success.

"A prosperous Ethiopia is one that protects its forest resources. Preserving forests is creating prosperity," he said.

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