Threat of desertification despite massive plantation in Ethiopia

On eve of World Day to Combat Desertification, experts say overgrazing, and charcoal production are some causes of desertification in Ethiopia

Seleshi Tessema and Addis Getachew   | 16.06.2022
Threat of desertification despite massive plantation in Ethiopia


Despite planting billions of trees over the past four years, experts say that the threat of desertification continues to loom large over the rugged and landlocked African country Ethiopia.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency on eve of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, which is being observed on Friday, Yitebitu Moges, researcher and coordinator with the Environment and Forest Ministry, said the country’s measures to combat desertification are based on reforestation and afforestation.

“Reforestation is planting trees where the forest is decreasing while afforestation is creating new forest by planting new trees where there were no trees before,” he said.

He said, while the rate of desertification has shown a steady decline over the past 10 years, it continues to be a threat to the country’s ecology.

“However, desertification is still a real threat and the Sahara and Sudan’s desert could expand to Ethiopia,” he said. He added that the total forest area in Ethiopia is till mere 15.5%.

Experts describe desertification as a type of land degradation in drylands in which biological productivity is lost due to natural processes or induced by human activities whereby fertile areas become increasingly arid.

According to Yitebitu, some of the identified causes of desertification in the Horn of Africa nation are population growth that requires more farmland, deforestation, overgrazing, age-old poor farming practices, and charcoal production from public forests and woodlands.

“There are organized mafia-type charcoal traders in many cities and towns of Ethiopia. They organize unemployed youth and poor farmers in rural areas and finance charcoal production which they export to neighboring countries,” he said.

During conflicts and droughts, people tend to earn living by engaging in charcoal production.

He said the presence of millions of refugees in the country also leads to deforestation.

Green Legacy project

Over the past four years, Ethiopia has been implementing a vigorous tree-planting campaign known as “Green Legacy” – a project that is the brainchild of the country’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali.

“Data show the nation has managed to plant 18 billion tree seedlings over the past three years,” Billene Seyoum, press secretary of the prime minister, told journalists in a press conference a week ago.

The government of Ethiopia last year distributed one billion trees to neighboring countries including Eritrea and Djibouti as part of the efforts to propagate the Green Legacy Initiative beyond borders.

Yitebitu said combating desertification needs sustainable management, conservation, enhancement of existing forest lands, and restoration of degraded land, besides raising public awareness and building a nationwide capacity.

According to the researcher, for centuries Ethiopia’s forests had been destroyed and the country was struggling to protect the remaining forest in Southwestern parts, Bale in central Oromia, Benishangul-Gumuz region, and Gambella.

The UN has described desertification as a serious challenge to sustainable development and humanity’s ability to survive in many areas of the world.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has set 2030 a deadline for the countries to pave the way to combat desertification and foster sustainable development.

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