Each Of Us Planting A Tree

Each Of Us Planting A Tree


The Monitor (Addis Ababa)- July 1, 2000

By Berhe W. Aregay


                              Addis Ababa - Wow! you might exclaim, that would translate into 50 million trees.

                              Yes indeed, it would, even after excluding the very young and the very old.


                              But hold on. Actually, seedling numbers have never been the real bottleneck in

                              afforestation in Ethiopia.


                              Individual regions have been able to fulfill that kind of yearly quota in their annual

                              planting program. If the problem doesn't lie with shortage of planting material

                              (seedlings), what is it then? What goes amiss in the attempt? But first why plant

                              trees? Of all of people's activities, there is perhaps nothing more harmless and

                              benign than planting trees.


                              No harmful side effects either to man or to land. No physical or mental danger has

                              ever been reported in connection either with planting or growing trees.


                              Even crops, vitally necessary as they are for human sustenance, arguably have

                              some side effects. Side effects like inducing soil erosion and soil nutrient depletion

                              due to repeated cultivation.


                              Trees, on the other hand, have none of these questionable attributes and when you

                              tally all the benefits that accrue from planting them, one wonders why on earth

                              people are happier to cut trees than to plant them. Besides, almost anybody out of

                              their toddler suits are capable of planting trees.


                              The saga of the depletion of Ethiopia's forest resources is long and a sad one.

                              Outside travelers of past centuries mention of treeless Ethiopian highland horizons

                              in their writings, which indicates, by the way, that deforestation in Ethiopia is not

                              just 40 or 50 years old.


                              What is more revealing about these dairies is that no mention was made (to my

                              knowledge) about any attempts at reafforestation. Over the centuries then

                              Ethiopians have been needlessly cutting their forests and now we are reaping the

                              harvest of our past misdeeds.


                              The result: diminutive forest area, widespread soil erosion on our cultivated fields,

                              and water shortages. Why have past attempts at reafforestation only partially

                              succeeded? After all figures show that billions of seedlings have been planted in

                              the last couple of decades.


                              The facts on the ground, however, tell a different story. Theories abound as to the

                              reasons for much, much less number of trees alive than the inflated figures show.


                              Many experts in the field tell us that the problem lies not with the technique, but

                              with land tenure regimes. If so it will be up to us to identify them and try to rectify

                              the situation a soon as possible.


                              After all we may not have eternity. One view as regards forest tenure in Ethiopia

                              to-day is that the lingering concept that communal ownership of forest land, under

                              the aegis of the government if the best way is, the dominant concept.


                              On the contrary, in the minds of many people, including farmers perhaps,

                              communally owned trees end up having no real owners, and no real "caretakers".

                              The necessary incentives that foster entrepreunership, day-to-day attention and

                              follow up are found to be missing in a communal arrangement.


                              What you end up with instead, is benign neglect. And in time of some crisis, and

                              this has been seen on several occasions, the first people to abuse the forests are

                              the so-called community tree owners themselves.


                              This shortcoming in communal ownership has been critiqued in many instances

                              and studies, including those undertaken by government. So far, lip service only has

                              been given to it.


                              Most regions seem to postpone the matter indefinitely. In few places tentative

                              attempts have been made at privatizing future forest sites.


                              But even here the move remains just tentative. We hope the next five years will

                              show a substantial degree of policy shift as regards tree ownership.


                              The key is perhaps that each region identify where the drawbacks lie. In some

                              regions, shortage of experienced foresters could be the bottleneck.


                              In others, it could be that nobody gives a damn! Now that the rains are here, let all

                              of us plant at least a tree each. Never mind even if it isn't our own.