Reforest Like There’s No Tomorrow

More people have come to mean fewer trees. This is especially the case in areas where electricity has barely made it. People have to depend on burning wood for fuel. Aside from that, the population growth has necessitated the need for converting more areas into croplands. Subsequently, indigenous plants and trees have suffered and, worse, the environment is hurting. Reforestation, and providing homes with adequate power supply, even if expensive and time-consuming, is the only way out of the crisis.

Ethiopia’s commitment to translate into action the desire to stop soil erosion and land degradation has borne some fruit. The state media reported the efforts’ worth, and if it is not exaggerated, is indeed good news to hear.

Recovering lost soil and greenery is not an easy job to carry out. The results do not come just like that. I happen to know what it takes.

I was the head of the Ethiopia Heritage Trust upon my retirement from the civil service duty. If an observer would ever take the trouble to see what has been done by professionals dedicated to making sure that the land is preserved in a manner that can support plants and forests, the relative success would not be that surprising. One could judge us by what changes we were able to make to help generate and rehabilitate nearly indigenous trees so that they grow to become abundant.

Early on, we had received finance from overseas to establish a decent plant nursery. We did not spend much time to construct it. I cannot forget the people who worked with us there, and the project’s head, who had a four-wheel-drive Toyota Land Cruiser for the job.

The big debate was propounded by professionals who argued that the alien Eucalyptus tree brought from Australia should not be used over the ones that are indigenous. Essentially, it might serve as a quick fix for the country’s timber and firewood needs. But the argument was that native trees are unique and should not be regarded as they can serve the same purpose in rehabilitating the natural environment and providing people something to warm themselves with. Still, the eucalyptus trees have persisted since the time of Emperor Menelik II.

A couple of years ago, I used to watch on the TV screen women carrying soil and rocks that are to be used for terracing to withstand soil erosion. This was what the Ethiopian population had to go through, and the success of soil preservation is most meaningful to them.

I know what it has taken to accomplish something of this nature. I want to express my happiness for their success. I hope the vegetation will keep on multiplying from year to year. It is no more a problem of erosion prevention. It has now reached a stage of self-sustenance.

Unfortunately, however, the opposite is happening in some areas of the country. In the western region of Gambella, deforestation is taking place in camps that have become temporary homes to the many South Sudanese migrants in the area. This is because they rely on the burning of wood for their fuel. The deforestation is significant, but thankfully the United Nation’s Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is trying to help by planting trees that would cover 150ha of land, according to a Reuters’ report.

Land clearing, for the purpose of increasing the usable land for crop production and cutting trees for fuel, has been the fundamental problem. It has caused soil erosion and soil degradation. Slow rural electrification, evidently, has aggravated the situation. People have to fulfil their basic needs even if it means continuing in the traditional method of using wood as a means of generating fuel to cook food. Power cuts are also another issue, which would probably continue to haunt the country for an unknown period.

The amount of electricity the country produces has been upgraded as new hydropower plants are built,  for instance, the Gelgel Gibe III Dam. But it is still not enough. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, currently under construction, is expected to make things easier. In fact, it is even expected to benefit neighbouring countries.

And like much of the hydropower dams, working with the indigenous trees is complicated and expensive. The trees, once planted, have to be closely guarded and taken care of until a time when they are abundant enough.

A plant nursery like the ones my colleagues and I tried to run is tortuous but has its rewards. I remember us being surprised when we found spring water in the growing jungle. Rare animals such as the Menelik Bushbuck or even hyenas and little antelopes came there to live. The birds, which would return every morning to sing, were the most arresting.

By Girma Feyissa

Published on Oct 19,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 912]



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