NOTE: This is a guest blog post from Evan Hunt, Development Administrator for Eden Reforestation Projects.
Ethiopia. What images are conjured up in your mind by the mention of this country? For many, it brings up images of desert. Or famine. Perhaps a bony little boy with skin stretched over his protruding ribs. Many people believe Ethiopia has always been in this miserly state. But nothing could be further from the truth. Ethiopia is known throughout the continent as The Roof of Africa because so much of the country is made up of high mountain plateaus, once lushly forested. Until as recently as the last century, the abundant rainfall from Ethiopia’s high plateaus supplied much of the river water from other Horn of Africa and East African nations.
So WHAT HAPPENED?
Over the past five decades, the overwhelming majority of the once abundant and beautiful highland and Rift Valley forests have been cut down. According to a recent survey, less than 3% of the forest remains intact. Of that remaining 3%, 15,000 additional acres are cut down each year. The forests are being decimated to make way for small plot farms and to satisfy the insatiable demand for charcoal used in cooking food and warming huts.
Unfortunately for Ethiopians, destroying trees means destroying a whole lot more than the availability of shade. The picture below illustrates the effects of deforestation.
One Ethiopian, Tesfaye Shandolah, has dedicated his life to reversing this devastating cycle. At the risk of butchering his story, I invite you to allow him to tell it to you in his own words.
Tesfaye’s dedication is beginning to pay off. Since he shared his story with us five years ago, he and the others you see in the video, along with thousands of others, have planted over 15 million trees. The impact of their efforts is already clearly evident. Wildlife is returning in droves. Farmland that had become useless for growing crops is fertile again. Clean sources of water are returning as rivers that had run dry are beginning to flow again.
Tesfaye has said he will continue to be a planter of hope for his country as long as he lives. We join him in hoping that photos of starving Ethiopian children will be a nightmare confined to history books.
All photos courtesy of Eden Reforestation Projects.