Ethiopia enlists help of forest communities to reverse deforestation

The Ethiopian government recently realized that just creating bans on cutting down trees is not an effective way of stopping deforestation and is actually creating zero change.  The government instead decided to turn to a strategy based on enlisting the help of forest communities. The woodlands are under a great deal of pressure, jungles are becoming extinct, and tropical and mature forests are being damaged by the lumber and paper trades. Through our negligence, more than half of what used to be viable rich land became swept off of its resources.

This strategy is called participatory forest management (PFM), and the first of these schemes were piloted 15 years ago.  The PFM has showed signs of success and is being used in larger areas.  PFM is basically the inclusion of communities in the management of state-owned or formerly state-owned forest resources, and has become increasingly common. This gives the forest community ownership and gives people the ability to manage their own resources. The local communities become the key stakeholders for sustainability. This strategy is taking place in an area of southern Ethiopia that is 500,000 hectares of forest through a project that is being run by Farm Africa, a British NGO who is working in the local NGO, SOS Sahel.

Ethiopia has experienced massive deforestation, with 40% forest cover in the 16th century, Ethiopia only has 4.6% forest cover now, a result of 0.8% deforestation a year. With a growing population of 85 million with over 80% living in rural areas, this is putting pressure on forests, relying on rain-fed agriculture. The 70 million livestock also put pressure on land and forests. Forests should be the world’s shield to the growing climate change and threat that comes along with it.

Tsegaye Tadesse, program manager with Farm Africa who was around when starting the projects off were difficult, said. “We were not welcomed by communities at first,” working in forestry since the 1980’s says Tadesse, Imagine being told that you will no longer have free access – despite laws prohibiting you from cutting down trees. You would want to carry on with the easy way, coming and going as you choose.”

Government officials bused many citizens to areas that had suffered extensive deforestation to show them the bleak future in store if their forest disappears and to learn the results of not properly caring for the future. What hopefully became clear to them was the crucial role forests play in our ecosystem and the destruction of forests is very harmful.  Eighteen percent of all carbon emissions come from deforestation.

Tadesse says the results have been positive. The first PFM pilot project shows satellite imagery has increase the forest cover by 9.2%.  The communities involved with the project are seeing an increase in incomes from sales of different crop resources instead of from lumber or other activities that involved cutting down trees. The overarching question is whether these communities can sustain themselves, once funding for the project stops.

To read more about this topic go to Deforestation in Ethiopia , The Guardian, & Implications

About cfiror

Chelsey Firor is a recent graduate of Gettysburg College, in May of 2012 where she earned her B.A. in Globalization and Sustainable Development. While at Gettysburg, Chelsey focused on sustainable agriculture and food security issues. She plans to further her knowledge of international development and global food issues, and eventually gain more hands on experience abroad.

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