Give Me Freedom Or Give Me A Dead Tree (Opinion)
The Monitor (Addis Ababa), August 15, 2000
By B. Mezgebu
Addis Ababa - They say that if you inadvertently drop a cigarette butt in the street in Hong Kong, someone, say an old lady, will pick it up, follow you through the crowd and hand it over to you as if the object at hand were a lost- and-found item.
Later, in a pub perhaps, in conversation about the incident, somebody will remind you that you were lucky it wasn't the police. What you were guilty of was randomly throwing even such an insignificant thing as a cigarette end.
You might think that is too much government. If that is your verdict of democracy as exercised there, you would love it here in Addis and the other towns.
By the standard above you have democracy here that is overwhelming. Because, here you can litter to sickness. In rural areas too, almost all developed countries and quite a few developing countries too, have a plethora of rules and regulations to safeguard their natural resources, that make this country in comparison a place of complete freedom.
Consider the US for an instant. The following, (only a few of the many) Federal government organizations exist there to exert one type or other of control.
The Forest Service in logging and ranching. The Bureau of Land Management in mining and ranching. Fish and Wildlife in commercial fishing. And they have all the bite that it takes.
It's very ironic here in Ethiopia, a country which desperately needs these type of safeguards, that few exist. This sort of gap is particularly true and all the more poignant in our rural areas.
Some obscure laws exist, which at best would be outdated, but nobody gives a damn. Successive governments seem only interested in raising crop yields; which in itself is admirable but if only they remember that on-going degradation of natural resources is undermining the very thing they undertake to accomplish.
Now let me give a few examples of simple rules that could go a long way in minimizing resources degradation, if they were applied widely today. On Cultivated Fields:. One, if your farm happens to be adjacent to an actively eroding gully, don't plow your field right to the edge.
Leave some space between your land and the gully. That way you prevent the gully from expanding and gnawing at your field. Two, if your farm happens to be on a slope, be sure to construct some simple barrier to prevent the top soil from going down the drain.
The barrier could be preferably indigenous, but no matter. If some there are farmers that may have no clue as to how to do it, which is hardly the case, let them seek help from the nearest extension agent.
Three, if farmers are using irrigation, there are several precautions that they should take to protect the soil from erosion and the water from being wasted. From then on farmers should be expected to follow the rules without exception.
On Tree Planting: Farmers can be advised that if they plan to use any wood products in future, any time soon then they ought to go ahead and plant their own trees. As there are no free goods they can't always count on just turning the corner and chop trees with impunity.
In the long haul, farmers will come to realize that growing their own trees will be of far more benefit to them in more ways than one. Regional governments ought to enact policy changes for this to work, though. On Pasture Lands: Free grazing on pasture lands with cattle density far above the land's capacity is changing grazing lands into carpets of dust.
At one point hard decisions must be taken to correct it, even if it means taking away freedom of movement of the cattle. The above were just few examples of guidelines that can be instituted for the common good. Sorry, but it looks as though we don't have unwritten rules that govern our actions when it comes to our natural resources. That's why we need written rules. Not grandiose ones. As mundanely simple as say, traffic rules.