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"Lie of the land"

The Monitor (Addis Ababa)
November 16, 1999
By B. Mezgebu

Addis Ababa - The title of this article is taken from the title of a book on environment. Even though the book itself isn't on Ethiopia per se, the theme on which the book dwells happens to be a great deal true to Ethiopia. So I have borrowed the title to make a point or two.

Two important questions raised by the two authors of the book are, roughly put, if all the misperceptions about the environment are the result of flawed knowledge alone and, why policy makers, lay populations, many researchers and others adhere to views about the environment that are shown to be wrong? Misperceptions held about environments surely vary from country to country. That is why perhaps we have policies that are sound and others that cause more harm than good when implemented.

And others that are somewhere in between. Let's try to see some, and only some, of the misperceptions that we generally hold in this country; both concerning our natural resources and on the problems that the resources face: the country is so rich in agricultural resources that they are inexhaustible.

Such a belief among some people reaches mythical proportions, in fact. The key word here is inexhaustible.

It can lead you to the opposite result before you know it. Development and development alone can stop natural resources from degradation..

That is to say that if you bring about progress then the environment will benefit from the trickle effect. If a specific example were required here, it would go something like this: if farmers were enabled to increase their yields in crops, they begin to protect their fields from soil erosion.

This argument might have some truth in it but not all the truth, I am afraid. Because if you can increase your yield while erosion is actively going on, why take the trouble to conserve? Since we are only a poor nation we can't afford to make protection of our natural resources among our forefront priorities..

in other words, all the polluting, all the littering in cities and towns, all the deforestation of mountains, degradation of grazing lands, and the soil erosion from farmlands, the loss of biodiversity, loss of wild animals, can go on until-- we have made it to the First World status. Proper flood control can wait. This, despite the fact that floods, year in and year out, result in destruction of properties and soil resources.

Granted, flood control doesn't come neither easy or cheap. But a start must be made somewhere.

You can't postpone it indefinitely. The list can go on and on.

The above are some of the misperceptions perhaps, attributable to official Addis and other regional capitals. Farmers and other lay population have their own; formed and sustained by other factors.

I need not attempt to go over those at this juncture; most of them might even not be easily understood, anyway. The book, The lie of the land, offers understandably, no straightforward answers to the questions it asks, why incorrect prejudices continue to be held. Is it interest?( special interest, of- course), lack of knowledge and sufficient information? Absence of political will? Or just plain myopia? The book considers the participation of the people crucial.

We can't agree more. In our case, the rural portion of the country would be transformed to a remarkable degree if the 85% that live there were to have wider participation in the conservation of natural resources.

Imagine more than 2 million people tending on and sprucing the streets of Addis. Singapore city would look awfully filthy by comparison

Copyright (c) 1999 The Monitor - Addis Ababa. Distributed via Africa News Online ( For information about the content or for permission to redistribute, publish or use for broadcast, contact the publisher.

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