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Sunday, July 24, 2005

A Hard Look at Ourselves

Addis Tribune -- Fortunately or unfortunately, in this world of ours, it is the rich countries of the West who happen to influence the trend of events. Regrettably, poor countries like ours seem to have no alternative but to dance to their tunes as sovereignty is getting more and more the back seat.

The plight of this country has always been discussed in many international forums, unfortunately. This country is endowed with natural resources, which are the foundation of its economy. The quality of renewable natural resources, such as land, water and basic needs for food, shelter and clothing, has now deteriorated, affecting productivity a great deal.

Land degradation and the associated threats to ecological support systems, with significant impact on agricultural production, is the most serious environmental problem facing the country today.

Soil erosion alone accounts for over 1.5 billion tonnes. More than 10 billion tonnes of top soil have been removed from the Ethiopia highlands in the last 20 years alone.

Some 85 percent of the population lives in the highlands, which account for some 45 percent of the total land area.

Furthermore, it is estimated that the burning of dung as a fuel instead of using it as a soil conditioner had resulted in a significant reduction in grain production.

Studies indicate that accelerated soil erosion causes a progressive annual loss in grain production estimated at about 40,000 tonnes, which, unless arrested, will reach about 170, 00 tonnes a year by 2010.

Studies also reveal that land to till and wood products to provide energy and construction materials have accelerated deforestation. This has affected biodiversity, undermining a unique world heritage treasure of flora and fauna that could have been used to increate food, fodder and tree crop productivity.

Estimates of deforestation vary from 80 to 200 thousand hectares annually. The forest cover of the country is now about 4 percent while estimates of total cover by the early 1950s were 16 percent of the total land area.

Water is one of country’s biggest natural assets and offers a high potential for development and poverty reduction. The area currently under irrigation is about 5 percent of the potentially irrigable 3.7 million hectares and accounts for only 3 percent of the country’s total crop production.

The problems are many and diverse and the government has tried to tackle them as it thought appropriate. In June 2002, for instance, the government, in realization of the fact that food insecurity in this country is a major contributor to the country’s poverty, established a new coalition for food security, along with a technical group, in order to deal with food insecurity more systematically and reduce the country’s vulnerability to famine.

The coalition reflected a new partnership and involved government, development partners, civil society, the private sector and mobilized local communities. Its mandate is to develop a new strategy and investment package in order to address, in a comprehensive and co-coordinated manner, the underlying causes of food insecurity, as well as issues of recovery, asset protection and the sustainable development of affected areas.

The objective is to attain food security for the 5 million chronically food insecure, and to significantly improve and sustain food security for another 10 million food insecure within 5 years.

Of course, all the efforts towards tackling the multifaceted problems have come a long way but the international community and critics believe that land reform would be the best bet to bring about a lasting solution to the problems of the recurrent famine which the government has, for various reasons, been reluctant to do all along. What now with the urgent need to privatize?

The Green Mantle

THIS WEEK – if not exactly this day – marks an anniversary of sorts. Fifty years ago this week Emperor Haile-Selassie – who was a great leader who had lived close and not remote from the people – planted the first tree in the company of his royal entourage, officials and journalists to mark the first Arbour Day in the history of this country, a reputed land of milk and honey being now stripped of its wooded cover.

“We are greatly grieved to observe the many thousands of gashas of rich forest land being destroyed every year by reckless timber-cutting, thoughtless forest burning, unregulated forest grazing, and other misuses of our forest wealth, due to popular ignorance and a desire for temporary advantage on the part of our people. It is a matter of great concern to us that our forest wealth…is being reduced and wasted.”

These are the words pronounced by the Emperor on the plight of the country with regard to the danger of creeping deforestation exactly three years after the inauguration of the first Arbour Day on July 19, 1958. What he did was to admonish Ethiopians to become aware of the tremendous industrial and agricultural advantages to be derived from their forest resources and to practice tree-planting in the paramount interest of posterity.

Diverse philosophers have been expatiating at length more on the abuses than on the uses of trees from time immemorial. According to Henry Van Dyke(1852-1933), an American Presbyterian minister, poet and essayist, “He that planteth a tree is the servant of God.” It is gratifying to note that even the military regime that had transpired through self-asphyxiation in 1991, was clothing our hills with a mantle of greenery.

Young men and women are, in the middle of July, often climbing the hills surrounding the city and planting trees – more particularly indigenous ones. This arboreal tokenism is not certainly enough. Our forests – or what remains of them – are in a parlous state for those of us who are familiar with the state of affairs prevailing here some 70 years ago. Peasants too have a sacred duty to replenish Ethiopia’s dwindling forest resources.

It is a shame, indeed, that Ethiopia has not still shaken off the yoke of arboreal colonialism imposed on it over a hundred years ago by eucalyptus and kindred exotic trees.

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