During a ceremony on Friday in Hawassa in southern Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced the ambition to plant 20 billion trees in four years. This goes beyond the five billion already planned for the 2020 rainy season.
In July 2019, hundreds of farmers spent a full day planting 20,000 acacia shoots near the city of Buee in southern Ethiopia, responding to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s call to plant 200 million trees in one day. The records had been taken up by newspapers around the world.
A year later, and while the world celebrates, Friday, June 5, Environment Day, the results are not up to the peasants’ fire, admits Ewnatu Kornen, a local official. More than a third of these shots were swept away by the rain and the survivors are struggling to thrive in this not very fertile land.
Four billion trees were planted between September and June
The Buee farmers’ disappointment illustrates the pitfalls of the Ethiopian forest forest campaign, a key axis of Abiy Ahmed’s “Green Heritage” program, which aims to develop ecotourism and transform the country into an environmentally friendly economy.
About 353 million young trees – 153 million more than the original target – were planted across the country on the same day, according to official figures. The latter more generally estimates that four billion trees were planted during the rainy season, between June and September in Ethiopia.
Although the coronavirus pandemic forced him to impose an emergency in April, the Ethiopian prime minister remains determined to reach the goal of planting five billion trees this year, while “respecting social distance measures”.
During a ceremony on Friday in Hawassa (south), he even showed his ambition to plant 20 billion in four years, thus going beyond the five billion already planned for this single rainy season in 2020.
Doubts on the credibility of the figures
The Ethiopian reforestation program is also ambitious and attractive.
Abroad, doubts have been expressed about the credibility of the impressive figures for the past year. On the spot, some experts dispute the organization and follow-up of this campaign.
“The most important thing is not the numbers (…) but the efficiency of the planting program,” said Negash Teklu, head of Ethiopia’s population, health and environmental consortium, a group of “Local NGOs.
He claims he supports the Prime Minister’s forest policy, but he suspects that the tree survival announced by Abiy Ahmed in May – 84% of the $ 4 billion planted – is “greatly exaggerated”. No independent study has been conducted.
In the future, Negash Teklu believes that the authorities must better guide the spread of shoots and better explain to citizens how replanting can improve their lives.
“Unite our people”
Belaynesh Zewdie, a forest expert from the UN development program based in Buee, was at the forefront when it comes to observing how such projects can go wrong without community support.
In the late 1980s, during the communist regime of Derg, she participated in the planting of one million acacia trees in the Amhara region (north). When Derg fell in 1991, angry residents jerked the trees from this centrally implemented project to cultivate the land, she recalls.
In recent years, Belaynesh Zewdie has been working on a project that this time seeks to get tangible benefits for the locals. In addition to employing 17 local women, this program includes, for example, the construction of ponds for keepers. Since then, acres of trees have grown. “In a short time you can change a lot,” says Belaynesh Zewdie. “I impress myself every time I come here. It’s fantastic.”
Given the upcoming general elections, whose dates have not yet been set, the authorities hope the initiative will help overcome political and ethnic divisions and “unite our people,” stresses Sileshi Degefa, head of the Gullele Botanical Garden from Addis Ababa.