Ethiopia and its forest resources
Teksti Kassa Lemma
Ethiopia is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 85.2 million people. It is also the 10th largest African country, occupying an area 3.3 times the size of Finland.
Despite the bad images of famine and drought, Ethiopia has a rich and colorful history. It is home to the ancient bones of our most famous hominoid ancestor, Lucy. The headwaters of the mysterious Blue Nile are located here. It is also the only African country to retain independence throughout its history and home to eight World Heritage sites. Ethiopia has some of Africa’s highest mountains as well as some of the world’s lowest points below sea level. The largest cave in Africa is located in Ethiopia at Sof Omar and the country’s northernmost area at Dallol is one of the hottest places year-round anywhere on Earth.
There are altogether around 80 different ethnic groups in Ethiopia today. It is also a country where Christians and Muslims lived together in harmony for long period of time. Ethiopia is largely an agrarian country with over 85 % of its population working in the subsistence agricultural sector.
The Ethiopian ortodox church has played a great role in forest preservation. Over 31,000 churches exist throughout Ethiopia, most of them surrounded by forest. I believe some of the oldest forests and biodiversity are found in and around the churches.
In the late nineteenth century, between 30 and 40 percent of the country was still covered with forest. Some of these were moist coniferous forests, found at elevations above l,600 meters, but a majority of the forestland consisted primarily of woodlands in dryer areas.
There is no definite information aboutEthiopia’s current forest cover. According to the FAO, the country’s forest cover is more than 10%, but many Ethiopian professionals stick to that it’s only 2.7%. The Ethiopian government claims that it’s 9%. I have never seen any scientifically viable document about the earlier 40% and current 2.7% forest cover. One thing is at least clear: The forest cover has been decreasing over the last 6000 years both due to natural and artificial factors.
The differences in the estimated forest cover might arise from differences in definition. The government figures are based on number of seedling raised or planted in the last few years, with no inventory on survival and no categories of which forest type. Professionals too are taking their figures simply from the blue. They could have been checked with the use of current GIS technology and comparison with earlier data (aerial photos or others).
Although the data about the Ethiopian forest in the past and present remains debatable, it is easy to notice the critical situation of the forest cover. There are tangible facts that Ethiopian forest resources are degraded at an alarming rate. As many others, I am convinced that the major cause of deforestation is the rapid population growth, which leads to an increase in the demand for crop and grazing land, wood for fuel and construction. Lack of viable land use policy and corresponding laws has also aggravated the rate of deforestation. New settlements in forests are increasing and is resulting in the conversion of forested land into agricultural and land use systems.
At present, the few remaining high elevation forests are threatened by pressure from investors who are converting the moist evergreen montane forests into coffee and tea plantations.
Kassa Lemma is an Ethiopian forester living in Finland. He has also studied Soil and Water Conservation in Ethiopia and Integrated Water Resource Management in Sweden. This summer he is doing an internship in Luonto-Liitto.