We depend on the environment for everything. That is why we have to preserve it.
Since the industrial revolution the earth has experienced pollution, deforestation and extinction of a number of species. In the developing world, especially with the emergence of colonialism, colonizers exploited the natural resources of the occupied territories for use in their industries, which created unrecoverable situations in some places. In pre-colonial Eritrea, for instance, 30% of the land was covered with forest and there were a good number of wild animals. Upon independence, following colonization and successive wars, the area covered with forest was reduced to below 2% and wild animals virtually disappeared.
Since then, the Government of Eritrea has taken the initiative to enhance the biodiversity of the country. The Forest and Wildlife Authority, under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), is now in charge of this task.
In Eritrea the national greening day is remembered on 15th May. On that day, last Wednesday, the MOA convened a one-day conference to remember the 13th anniversary of the launching of the campaign. The Day was celebrated this year colorfully in Asmara under the theme “let’s ensure a green environment for our children” at the Expo ground. Around 350 participants attended the conference which included ministers, higher PFDJ officials, regional administrators, army commanders, religious leaders and experts.
Cultural and artistic works were shown aimed at raising our awareness of the impact of deforestation and the forestation on the environment. The national greening campaign was launched in 2006 under the theme “Vigorous Effort to Greening Campaign”. It started with the objectives of planting trees, establishing and administering national parks, forming green clubs in schools, religious places and other institutions, introducing Adhanet (energy saving stove) as well as conserving soil and water through the participation of local communities.
Each branch of the Authority and the regional administrations presented annual reports on their work progress.
Mr. Fitsum Hagos, chairman of the greening campaign committee presented details on the works accomplished by the regional administrations. He said that the unfulfilled alternative energy supply to much of our society has continued to be a major problem and is posing a threat to the greening efforts. As a result, as always, the cutting down of trees was difficult to control in the last year. Mr. Fistum explained that an effort will be made to provide a balance of the reforested and afforested areas in comparison to the deforested areas in the coming year. He underscored that there remains much to be done to reclaim the deforested areas. Some of the encouraging results of the greening campaign carried out last year include the founding and administering of nursery areas by members of the Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF), the protection of enclosure areas by members of the EDF, increasing the number of villages that do so well in conserving their environment, and the overall increase of the communal planting of trees in different places. But efforts towards setting up enclosures, expanding the distribution of energy-saving-stoves and founding of new green clubs was reported to be low.
This year, 83 institutions and individuals that did exemplar works were given awards and certificates of appreciation. Mr. Fitsum thanked all those who contributed toward the campaign for green environment.
General Manager of the Forestry and Wildlife Authority, Mr. Abraha Garza, said that in the last 13 years, though the afforestation and reforestation progress made did not meet their expectation, much has still been done so far. The recent challenge to the greening campaign has been the unpredictable climate changes. Mr. Abraha added that despite the challenge the authority believes that it needs to grow trees more than ever to combat desertification, and this requires a concerted effort.
Mr. Arefaine Berhe, Minister of agriculture, said on the occasion that an alternative idea is much needed, as is an alternative source of energy, to curb the effects of deforestation.
He underscored that we should plant trees to mark any event as a culture. This may be on public holidays and occasions such as weddings as was done on 12th May by a couple who planted more than 500 seedlings on their wedding day.
He also said that trees are being cut down not by the sharp axes but due to the blunt understanding of those who are engaged in illegal cutting and transporting of tress. To change this attitude much remains to be done to increase the collective awareness of our society.
Mr. Mussie Robel, head of the Greening Campaign projects, said that they have developed a map that shows areas where intervention is being made in collaboration with the National Center of Maps and Information.
He said that management of nursery stations and developing seedlings, terracing and preparing the areas planned to be planted, founding and managing reserved areas, giving legal licenses to businessmen to move forest by-products, conducting studies and preparing projects and planning on the job training were some of the tasks accomplished by the authority last year. For example, more than 4.5 million seedlings were transplanted this year, of which 41% include indigenous plants, a 5% increase from the previous year.
In 2018/19 more than 3.5 million seedlings were planted in the six regions of our country in places such as religious sites, schools, governmental and non-governmental institutions, residential areas and water drainage areas, which is a 4.2% increase from 2017.
This year, 3556 hectares of land was reserved and this has increased the total enclosure area to more than 372,895 hectares of land and is under the authority’s administration. This covers only 18.6 % of the potential enclosure area all over the country. One of the challenges that were identified as the major setback is improper administration and supervision of enclosure areas. For example, in the Debub region more than 16 thousand hectares of land was endangered due to improper management, lack of control and incursion of domestic animals and people.
As far as green clubs 12 new have been set up this year, and this has increased the total number of green clubs to about 571 throughout the country. The establishment of green clubs has reached only 51%; therefore, the number of green clubs should be increased.
The major causes of deforestation are still persisting. These include the use of trees as a source of energy, the expansion of agriculture, illegal commercial use of tree by-products and erosion. For many people fire wood is the primary source of energy, which leads to massive cutting of trees. To limit the damage to trees, spreading the energy-saving stove is one of the major targets of the greening campaign. Distribution of the energy-saving stoves is increasing. In the year 2018/19, 162,123 energy-saving stoves have been in use. This number covers only 36.3%.
The Forestry and Wildlife Authority penalizes individuals engaged in the illegal cutting and transporting of trees. The Authority always strives to raise the awareness of the society through campaigns and community meetings to control the irresponsible individuals.
Work is underway to set a final format of the national reserve areas of the Northern and Southern Red Sea. The draft plan of the enclosure areas proposed by the Ministry of Regional Administration was approved by the Authority. The condition of wild animals in all the forest areas is improving from time to time.
However, seven elephants were reported to have died, and there are traces of ivory theft in some places. To avoid such problems the Forest and Wild life Authority is on the way of creating protected area management systems. Mr. Mussie stated that the status of Wild Ass in the Southern Red Sea region is in a good condition despite some instances of conflicts with the local people due to the lack of reserved areas provided for them.
Last year, the MOA concluded that the diversity of bird species in the nation remained undiscovered and unexploited. But this year, more bird species are being registered in the checklist, raising the number.
According to Mr. Mussie shortage of facilities and budget, hunting and deforestation of the habitat’s wildlife, killing of wild animals by drivers, and unregulated use of toxic materials were some of the major problems faced in the past year.
The participants of the annual workshop gave these recommendations: making energy-saving stoves widely accessible to everyone; imposing severe penalty on those who are engaged in illegal activities so as to discourage the cutting down of trees; and cutting dry grass and woods to reduce the incidence of wild fires. The Ministry plans to plant six million new seedlings, work on five more projects, establish and secure new enclosures, set up new green clubs, create an environment for sharing experiences among regions, organize training for experts and increase awareness campaigns.