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Re-greening Ethiopia: A Meles Zenawi legacy that's still on track

By Ruta Shemelis
Tigrai Online, Sept. 15, 2014

Last month, the Ethiopian media was full of massive tree-planting campaigns in memory of the Great Leader Meles Zenawi. For example, Western Shewa zone have established 172 parks in memory of Meles Zenawi, the SNNPR planted about 6o million trees, Benishangl region announced more than 77 percent of the trees planted in 86 Meles Zenawi memorial parks had survived.

Re-greening Ethiopia: A Meles Zenawi legacy that's still on track

The tree plantations campaign is part of the plan launched in 2013 to establish over 10,000 parks Meles Zenawi Public Memorial Parks across the nation - covering about 300,000 hectares with almost a billion trees and plants.

The campaign was in line with the Great Leader's legacy. As Abay Tsehaye, Advisor to the Prime Minister, noted:

Meles’ legacy is being maintained. The activities of the foundation are also going well. The public have stepped up efforts to maintain the ongoing development endeavors. The tree planting endeavor that is taking place in four major regions covers some one million hectares of land. A remarkable green development is being witnessed. Therefore, through our evaluation we will build on those experiences. The evaluation that is being made in all member parities of EPRDF is based on his green development aspirations.”

Meles Zenawi's green aspiration were attested in the statement of Professor Nicholas Stern (Lord Stern of Brentford), who is Chair of the Grantham Research Institute, former adviser to the UK Government on the Economics of Climate Change and Development and former Chief Economist and Senior Vice President at the World Bank, in the first year of Meles memorial.

The renowned scholar stated that: "On climate and environment and their relationship with development, Meles Zenawi was visionary, determined and practical. It was Meles who, in the run up to the Copenhagen UNFCCC conference of December 2009, insisted on and obtained the promise of $100 billion per annum from developed to developing countries.

He saw the deep inequities in the facts that the rich countries had become rich on high-carbon growth and the poor countries were hit earliest and hardest on climate change. Yet at the same time, he argued (in Africa Day at the Durban UNFCCC conference in December 2011) that "it is not justice to foul the planet because others have fouled it in the past".

Before Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's leadership, the nation's forestry was neglected to the point of reaching on the verge becoming extinct. A country that had about 30 percent of its landmass covered with forest in the late nineteenth century had less than 3 percent of its land covered with forest in 1991.

During the Imperial regime, about half of the forestland was privately owned or claimed, and roughly half was held by the government. There was little government support for forestry operations. The military regime that came to power in 1974 took a completely opposite policy direction.  It nationalized forestland and sawmills and controlled harvesting of forestland. This measure encouraged illegal logging and accelerated the destruction of Ethiopia's remaining forests.

The military government's decision to monopolize all forestry development responsibilities, including tree plantations activities and forest protection tasks discouraged effective community & individual participation in forest development. The full value of the forest depletion in 1990 would have been about 138 million Birr or some 25 percent of the potential forestry GDP of 544 million Birr.

In 1992, immediately after the downfall of the military regime, the government recognized that "natural resources are the foundation of the economy. Smallholder peasant agriculture, in some areas including forestry, is the dominant sector accounting for about 45 per cent of the GDP, 85 per cent of exports and 80 per cent of total employment. And that, renewable natural resources, i.e. land, water, forests and trees as well as other forms of Biodiversity had been deteriorated to a low level of productivity in the last century."

As a response to the decline in natural forest area the Government launched projects to rehabilitate formerly forested area for timber production and erosion control were started at large-scale. Environmental sustainability was recognized in the Constitution and in the national economic policy and strategy as a key prerequisite for lasting success.

The 1995 Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia recognized in Article 92 "Environmental Objectives" that:

1. Government shall endeavor to ensure that all Ethiopians live in a clean and healthy environment.

2. The design and implementation of programmers and projects of development shall not damage or destroy the environment.

3. People have the right to full consultation and to the expression of views in the planning and implementations of environmental policies and projects that affect them directly.

4. Government and citizens shall have the duty to protect the environment.

The government also set an overall policy goal to promote better management of natural recourses. However, there was a gap in terms an overall comprehensive formulation of sectorial and cross-sectorial framework on natural resources and the environment to harmonize these broad directions and guide the sustainable development, use and management of the natural resources and the environment.

The 2001 Rural and Agricultural development policy and strategy provided a detailed direction in this regard.  The policy was immediately accompanied by detailed manuals and implementing agencies. To implement the Rural and Agricultural Development policy, 25 agricultural vocational training colleges (ATVT's) have already been established all over the country and gradated more than 71,000 agricultural development agents are graduated in animal science, plant science and natural resource. Moreover, 8,780 farmers training centers (FTCs) have been built and many farmers are getting trained in various agricultural practices, extension services and on how to adapt new agricultural technologies that enhances agricultural productivity.

The current Forest Policy and Strategies aim to meet public demand in forest and forest products and to enhance the socio-economic and environmental contribution of forests through six focal areas: Those are: Fostering private forest development; Developing and extending technologies; Expanding markets; Administration and management of state forests; Forest protection; and Building data base on forest conservation, development and utilization.

The forestry development drive was also supplemented by several scientific policies and plans of actions - including, the Conservation Strategy, the Environment Policy, the Energy Policy, the National Policy on Biodiversity and the Wildlife policy.

The outcome was impressive. Due to the interventions made during the last decade have been bearing fruits that the forest cover has started to grow. The total forest cover of Ethiopia has tripled in size since 2000 as a result of large-scale reforestation campaigns.”

According to a UN report, Ethiopia planted more than 700 million trees in 2007 alone. The Ministry of Agriculture has recently said Ethiopian forest coverage increased because of the reforestation campaigns.

According to recent data about 11 percent of Ethiopia’s land area is now forested (12.3 million hectares). Another 44.6 million hectares are under wooded land. The forest vegetation consists mainly of Acacia and Boswellia, but also includes some high forest, riverine woodlands, mixed deciduous woodlands and bamboo woodlands.

Moreover, very significant stride have been achieved in the rehabilitation of degraded landmass through area closures and reforestation/afforestation in the last 20 years. Until 2009/10, area closures cover about 1.5 million hectares whereas areas covered by reforestation/afforestation account for about 6.1 million hectares. Most of these areas have now reached the level of forest stand definition.

The progress has been commended in several international reports. For example in the African Economic Outlook report 2013. Community Based Participatory development is the heart of work of the government. In the same fashion, the green development approach was based on the active participation of the peasant.

The attention given to forestry is well-demonstrated in the 15-year Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) strategy of Ethiopia - the brain child of Meles Zenawi. The plan clearly demonstrates the emphasis given to balance GDP growth with environmental preservation. Forestry is identified as one the four main pillars of the CRGE.

Therefore, it stipulates that “protecting and re-establishing forests for their economic and ecosystem services including as carbon stocks” is one of the four pillars of the CRGE.

Activities to be undertaken include: Afforestation (2 million ha), reforestation (1 million ha), and forest management (2 million ha of forests and 2 million ha of woodlands) to increase carbon sequestration in forests and woodlands. Agro forestry is also set to play major role in improving soil fertility and livestock feed availability, and in meeting household and market demands.

Addressing the neglect and damage on Ethiopia's forestry includes a massive effort to rehabilitate the precious flora and fauna in the national parks, reserves and other areas of the nation.

One of the major results of the past irresponsible regimes had been that parks and protected areas have been destroyed with prolonged warfare, human-wildlife conflicts, human and cattle habitation, and also other short-sighted governmental works. That resulted not only in deforestation but also the migration of wildlife to neighboring countries. One researcher estimated the number of endemic mammal declined to 300 to 500.

As a result, the Semen Mountains National Park reached to the level where UNESCO classified it a world heritage in danger. Semen Park is one of the 22 national parks, two wildlife sanctuaries, five wildlife reserves, 10 community reserve areas, 21 controlled hunting areas, and 4 biosphere reserves, protected areas that cover about 14 percent of Ethiopia's total landmass.

Now, after 20 years of effort, that is about to change. Last week, week, the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority announced that Semen Park will be removed from UNESCO’s list of endangered heritages by 2015.

The Semen Park is not just any park. It is a world heritage of global significance because it forms part of the Afro alpine Centre of Plant Diversity and the Eastern Afro montane biodiversity hotspot, and it is home to a number of globally threatened species. The cliff areas of the park are the main habitat of the Endangered Walia ibex (Capra Walie), a wild mountain goat which is endemic to the Simien Mountains. Other flagship species include the Endangered Ethiopian wolf (or Simien fox, Canis simensis), considered to be the rarest species in the world and the Gelada baboon (Theropithecus gelada), both of which are endemic to the Ethiopian highlands and depend on Afro alpine grasslands and heath lands.

In fact, UNESCO hailed the park as: "the spectacular scenery of the Simien Mountains is considered to rival Colorado’s Grand Canyon".  Nonetheless, UNESCO noted that: "80% of the park was under human use of one form or another. Threats to the integrity of the park include human settlement, cultivation and soil erosion".

To ensure the safety of the park, UNESCO recommended several measures. Now, after almost two decades of effort, the Semen Park is close to leave UNESCO’s list of endangered heritages by 2015.

The story of the Semen Park is nothing but a symbol of the national progress made as per Meles Zenawi's green vision.

As envisioned in the strategy document of December 2011, the government of Ethiopia aims to made headway in the forestry sector. Ethiopia plans to attain major targets for the forestry sector: Afforestation on 2 million hectare (ha); Re-forestation of 1 million ha and Improved management of 3 million ha of natural forests.

Following the footsteps of Meles Zenawi, that is an achievable goal!

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