Extreme climate conditions have been attributed to the exploitation of earth’s resources which brought about a shift from moderate weather to extreme. Researchers calculated that under the current climate conditions, earth’s land could support 4.4 billion hectares of continuous tree cover. That would be 1.6 billion hectares more than the currently existing 2.8 billion hectares. Once these forests reach maturity, they could store 205 billion tons of carbon.
The Ethiopian government currently is engaged in massive tree planting activities. Tefera Mengistu Woldie (PhD), Forestry Program Specialist at UNDP said that Ethiopian’s attitudes about trees are changing. Capital’s Reporter talked with Tefera to learn more about tree plantation in Ethiopia and its current challenges and achievements. Excerpts;
Capital: What do you think of the push to plant more trees?
Tefera: Considering the present challenge of climate change and environmental degradation, tree planting is an indispensable initiative that can’t be replaced. Nature has endowed us with such a wonderful opportunity to balance our activity. While we may disturb natural environments to survive, we should also responsibly act to replenish them. One way to do this is through planting trees. Doing this signals the nature of a responsible society.
Capital: Do you think Ethiopian’s attitudes about trees are changing?
Tefera: Yes, especially in the rural parts of Ethiopia. They are increasingly more enthusiastic about planting trees and are encouraging planting trees on private lands. Beyond mass mobilization, you can witness farmers converting their prime lands into tree orchards. You will be surprised at the economic, health, educational stories related to these changes.
Capital: Do you think more varieties of trees should be planted?
Tefera: Sure, tree planting requires year-round preparation. This time tree planting was initiated in the last three months of the year so it had to be conducted with what we already had in the nursery stock. However, I can say that the species diversity was nothing special this year.
Capital: GFC classifies any vegetative growth higher than five meters as a tree and therefore counts tree plantations as forests. How do you plan on differentiating between vegetation higher than 5 meters such as plantation forestry and natural forests?
Tefera: If this is about forest definition; there are criteria globally used to define forests. Ethiopia hasn’t defined its forests any differently. One global classification can’t be applicable for all countries. That is why the global forest classification provides ranges of opportunities for countries to define their forests to fit their realities. The definition of a forest in the Brazilian Amazon can’t be the same as the one on tropical dry lands. Countries should contextualize their forest definition to provide their resources more legal protection and benefit from its sustainable management. Our forest definition uses height, canopy cover and area as criteria. The criteria used is not beyond the global range. On the issue of differentiating plantations against natural forests, there are ground-based and remote sensing-based technologies to differentiate plantations from natural forests.
Capital: Goal 15 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”. As an expert in forestry, how do you see Ethiopia’s work fitting in the UN framework to make a sustainable future for all?
Tefera: Ethiopia has a long way to go in this regard. Some of the required initiatives to achieve this goal are strategic others are operational. The policies and strategies are fine. For example, we have developed the CRGE which is a ten-year national forest development program that encompasses strategic and operational interventions in urban and rural settings. These plans require economy-wide coordinated engagement of all stakeholders. The strategic interventions outlined in this program need to be guided by strong leadership, coordination and institutional set-up.
Capital: What is one urgent task that we need to undertake in the name of sustainable soil management?
Tefera: Reduce soil erosion to the extent possible and improve the soil biology.
Capital: How does providing enhanced rights for communities actually protect the forests themselves?
Tefera: Defining ownership is a critical factor for resources. A resource owned by all is a resource owned by none. Defining the user group for any resources is a requirement. It avoids the ‘tragedy of the commons’. Unlike other physical resources, forests are biological in nature; they require continuous nurturing and then the issue of ownership becomes critical. Certifying land; including forest land; will therefore bring transformation in the sector. Ethiopian landscapes are meant to serve generations of Ethiopians anyway; and I don’t see the advantage of being shy from certifying land ownership for individuals.
Capital: What issues do you see with the management of primary forests in Ethiopia?
Tefera: Our primary forests are highly encroached. We are losing resources before even we properly know them. This has implications for generations to come. The primary driver of forest loss in Ethiopia is agricultural expansion. Of course; fuelwood consumption is the second highest. To bring about sustainability in this country, we must bring transformational change to both of these behaviours. Agriculture; through intensification. We also must promote biomass fuel through rural electrification. I think the government is trying its level best. But prioritizing and sequencing is very important. The food security narrative of Ethiopia should be changed. Humans need food on a daily basis, but not only by farming crops. It can also be by growing trees. Growing trees is more environmentally friendly than farming crops.
Capital: What is your advice to the government, educational institutions, researchers, teachers and other stakeholders involved in forestry education in Ethiopia?
Tefera: Let’s touch base. I feel we all are a bit far from what is happening and what has happened on the ground in Ethiopian landscapes (rural and urban). In addition to observing and narrating we need to feel and act differently.