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IDEA Hails the Ethiopian Green Fingerprints but has concerns on the Looming Famine

IDEA Editorial                                              July 28, 2019

July 29, 2019 (ሐምሌ ፪፪ ፪ሺ፩፩) will mark a special place in Ethiopian history; throughout Ethiopia, Ethiopians will place their fingerprints on their respective locales by planting trees. The concept and practice of the metaphoric “fingerprints” was first initiated by the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi when he put the cornerstone for the construction of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and said, “All Ethiopians must put their fingerprints in the construction of the Dam.” Ever since, “fingerprints” has become a buzzword for any initiative and/or development projects in Ethiopia.

We at the Institute of Development and Education for Africa (IDEA) are gratified that Ethiopians are mobilized to plant trees at such grand scale, although reforestation and terrace agriculture were also initiated by the previous regimes. What makes the July 29, 2019 Green Fingerprints different is the fact that it is very ambitious and has plans to plant four billion trees all over Ethiopia. The greening of Ethiopia is a promising revolution but it should neither conceal nor neglect the looming famine as will be explained at the end of this editorial.

Most Ethiopians are now environment conscious and they seem to appreciate the significance and benefits of reforestation and afforestation, but they may not have clarity on the difference between the latter two concepts, and for this apparent reason, we found it important to define the terms that are directly associated with the Ethiopian green fingerprints.

What is the difference between reforestation and afforestation?  Reforestation is restoration of forest habitat where the forests were gradually depleted to the extent of being destroyed or removed (e.g. Tigray, home to ancient Ethiopian civilization); by contrast, afforestation is the process of planting trees or creating new forests in areas that have never been forested (e.g. the Afar and Somali regional states).

Whether it is reforestation or afforestation, or a combination of both that is taking place in Ethiopia now, the grand project will ultimately bring tremendous benefits to Ethiopians in a variety of ways. First and foremost, when the plantings grow up as trees they will mitigate the amount of carbon dioxide and establish a healthy environment by producing more oxygen, and most importantly by preventing soil erosion and degradation of the environment. In other words, reforestation and afforestation revive biodiversity and improves the quality of human life by absorbing smog and pollution from the air.

Reforestation and afforestation, thus, facilitate the rebuilding of natural habitats and providing a healthy environment for wildlife. Some of the preserved Ethiopian forests (only 2.7% that has remained from the original forest) in south western Ethiopia and in Dansha-Humera (Western Tigray) are good examples of well-maintained habitat for wildlife; all sorts of wildlife are found in south west Ethiopia, which is the contrast of the arid and dry zone of south eastern Ethiopia, where wildlife habitat is virtually absent. By the same token, the Dansha-Humera of Tigray is a healthy habitat for all animals ranging from minute ants and butterflies to large animals like elephants; by contrast, the semi-arid eastern Tigray necessitates a massive reforestation program.

This major Ethiopian initiative of reforestation and/or afforestation, however, requires scientific management and diligent monitoring; to this effect, the Ethiopian Government should train and hire rangers (forest and conservation workers) to ensure the sustainability of the forests; the government should also consciously prevent and avoid external inputs that could potentially bring plant disease and subsequently devastate a relatively healthy ecology.

A good example of external input that brought havoc and disaster in Southern Tigray is the insect introduced by a Chilean company known as Foodsafe. Sadly, a decade ago, Foodsafe introduced the Cochineal Ophid, a cactus-eating insect, and in no time the insect spread throughout Raya of Southern Tigray and virtually destroyed the cactus trees. In an effort to kill the Cochineal insect, Dr. Kiros Meles of Mekelle University introduced Cochineal-eating beetles that were brought from Holland, but he was successful because his beetles were not breeding. Ultimately, experts from KKL-JNF Afforestation division of Israel brought their own species of beetles, whose scientific name is Cryptolaemus Montrouzien; but by the time the Israeli beetles were introduced, the carmine cochineal (Doctylopies Coccus Costa) has already devastated a large area and subjected the local population and animals, that were depending on the cactus as one source of their food, to widespread hunger.

On top of preventing external species that could contaminate domestic Ethiopian plants, the Ethiopian Government should carefully select trees that could successfully adapt to their environment. For instance, some trees that don’t require much water should be planted in semi-arid and arid zones; plants that consume a lot of water like eucalyptus should be planted in areas with plenty of water; on the other hand, pine trees that don’t consume a lot of water can be planted all over Ethiopia, and they could be the major contributors to the greening of Ethiopia.    

As stated earlier, however, while the great Ethiopian green fingerprints take place, a looming famine could be inadvertently concealed. The present famine that IDEA is concerned with is not as widespread famine as that of 1974, 1984, and 1994, but it could nonetheless affect a big population in the larger Ethiopian society. For instance, at present, some 488,166 people in the Afar Regional State, where a great deal of water shortage have been reported, are in need of urgent food aid. Similarly, a significant number of Ethiopians that suffered from internal displacement are going hungry. IDEA wonders why the Ethiopian Government was unable to transport and distribute the millions of food-aid quintals that were donated but stockpiled at the Port of Djibouti. We appeal to the Ethiopian Government that it should reach out to the people and extend food and medical aid to the hungry while the inexorable green Ethiopian movement marches forward. Go green, Ethiopia!

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