In the 16th century, 40 percent of Ethiopia was covered by forests. Now, less than 1 percent is as the result of deforestation, of logging, the expansion of agriculture, the conversion of forests into pastureland, fires and the growth of infrastructure, from roads to human settlements. Fifteen years ago, after finding that an all-out ban on cutting down trees was unsuccessful, the Ethiopian government turned to a strategy of getting those who live in forest communities actively involved — and so far, it seems to be working.
Ethiopia has a population of 85 million, more than 80 percent of whom live in rural areas, and over 70 million herd animals.
When the Ethiopian government undertook a participatory forest management (PFM) program, communities resisted the idea. “Imagine being told that you will no longer have free access — despite laws prohibiting you from cutting down trees. You would want to carry on with the easy way, coming and going as you choose,” says Tsegaye Tadesse, program manager with Farm Africa, a British NGO.
So the government used a “carrot-and-stick” approach, threatening some people with eviction and taking busloads of farmers to see areas where extensive deforestation had left the land devastated. But also allowed was what can be called “legal exploitation” (including logging) of the forest for an unspecified time, though still managed by the government (which owns all land in Ethiopia).
The first PFM in Chilmo, about 90 kilometers from the capital of Addis Ababa, has resulted in a 9.2 increase in forest cover. Residents have benefited by being able to produce honey and coffee; some families have been able to send their children to college. The government has now undertaken a PFM program in the mountains of Bale in the southern region of Oromia, to 500,000 hectares (1.24m acres) of forest.
Conflict mediation and negotiation are key to making a PFM program work. As Tadesse notes, “It is a bit like vaccines. It takes a lot of money to develop at first, but once you have it, things become easier.”
Some other seemingly illogical strategies that conservationists and scientists are proposing and/or implementing:
2. Injecting rhino horns with poison and pink dye.
3. Feeding polar bears — a step that sounds drastic until you consider another suggestion, killing them.
5) Teaming up with “unlikely allies“: the Nature Conservancy has partnered with the timber industry to develop salmon-recovery strategies, with fishermen to develop better, sustainable ways to catch groundfish and with ranchers to create grazing techniques that both conserve land and limit the number of invasive plants.
Deforestation and forest degradation account for nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more than result from the entire global transportation sector. Saving priceless natural resources requires that we think outside, and way beyond, the box.
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