Ethiopia will plant 4bn trees to fight deforestation

Four billion trees, equivalent to 40 per person in Africa’s second most populous nation, will be planted across Ethiopia to fight deforestation.

The ambitious campaign is an effort to improve the barren rural landscape and leafless cities where tree cover has fallen from 35 per cent in the early 20th century to 13 per cent today.

As he planted the first seedling Abiy Ahmed, the prime minister, said the trees would help to “transform our degraded environments for healthy lives and functional ecosystems”.

Ethiopia has been celebrated as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies but the rapid expansion of its agriculture, construction and service sectors — as well as its ballooning population, now 105 million — have taken their toll on its natural environment. As tree cover has vanished the land has dried out and become less fertile, risking creating one of Ethiopia’s periodic famines. In 2017 two million animals died as a result of drought.

With 70 million grazing animals and nearly nine households in ten still relying on wood for fuel, the pressure on land and forests is set to increase. Ethiopia is not alone: every year Africa loses forest cover equivalent to an area the size of Switzerland. Globally, deforestation accounts for at least a fifth of all carbon emissions.

Wildfires have also taken their toll. Last month, fires raged across the Simien Mountains National Park in the north of the country, a Unesco world heritage site and the continent’s biggest continuous area of elevation that is often referred to as the Roof of Africa.

Planting and bedding in the four billion saplings, which will include fast-growing bamboo grasses in areas threatened by mudslides and erosion, will need hundreds of thousands of volunteers. The agriculture ministry estimates the cost at £300 million.

Some of the money for planting and other improvements in the capital, Addis Ababa, was raised by tickets to a gala dinner with Mr Ahmed. Two hundred guests paid $173,000 each to attend last week, and will be named on plaques along a new tree-lined avenue.

The initiative is a typically ambitious one from Mr Ahmed, 42, who has made radical reforms since he came to power in April last year. The pace is also characteristic: if the project is to succeed, as much work as possible must be done in the rainy season, which ends in August.

As well as creating forests and tree-lined streets, the authorities plan to replace alien species such as eucalyptus, which has been imported from Australia since the 1890s as a fast-growing material for fuel and building. It has wreaked havoc on the environment, sucking up so much water that it is sometimes planted to drain swamps.

Source: The Times