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Strengthening Reforestation Activities for a Sustainable Future

By: Mikal Tesfay

Cultivated trees are planted and tended to by humans usually because they provide food, ornamental beauty, or some type of wood product that is beneficial. Trees are mainly used as a source of fuel. Wood has traditionally been used for fuel, especially in rural areas. In many less developed countries, firewood may be the only source of fuel available, while in more developed countries firewood is a choice rather than a necessity. However, many people (including me) seem to forget that those trees being cut down and used for firewood are important in other ways. Specifically, they help improve the quality of human life by soaking up pollution and dust from the air. As well, they are habitats for various animals. And, of course, they also mitigate global warming since plants facilitate bio-security from atmospheric carbon dioxide. Taking all of this into account, the Eritrean government took measures in restoring forestry for the past 30 years.

In Eritrea, one of the main tasks of the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) is regulating, preserving, and restoring the natural resources of the country. The natural resources that are mainly related to the Ministry of Agriculture are forestry and wildlife. Eritrea’s approximately 1000 kilometer coastline has been praised as one of the least polluted and most beautiful in the world. The decades under colonial rule not only affected the people but also its natural environment. Although its environment at sea has been well preserved and is still flourishing, Eritrea’s land has suffered the environmental consequences of development and conflicts. In Eritrea, it is widely believed by both rural and urban people that forests have decreased from 30% of the land which was once the beauty of the country to less than 1%. Some of this land was converted to farmland due to the dramatic increase in population, while some were degraded by enemy forces to reduce cover during the armed struggle for independence. These are some of the main reasons for the cause of deforestation throughout Eritrea.

Deforestation is one of the main factors contributing to the expansion of desertification. The factors that lead to deforestation and thus to desertification may include the need for land for grazing and arable land due to the population, unwise expansion of agricultural activities, and house construction. These mentioned above the reduced ground cover which led to the washing away of fertile soil in Eritrea. As a result, the reforestation program has been underway parallel to combating desertification.

This program can be divided into two parts. The first part is conducting restoration of natural vegetation through developing both temporary and permanent enclosures throughout the country. They simply enclose the area to avoid people trespassing, to avoid grazing animals, cultivation, cutting trees, and so on. The MoA is working to let nature take its role in leading the program of restoration of vegetation. The vegetation area possibly is regenerated quickly, largely due to the existence of previous trees or seed banks in the soil or life roots. According to the director of the natural resources regulatory division, Mr. Estifanos Beyin, so far 200,000 hectares of land have been regenerated naturally. The second part is the MoA has been carrying out reforestation programs of degraded lands with the participation of local communities and students of a summer work program. This is done by planting both exotic and indigenous trees.

Since 1994 and the initiation of the Summer Work Program, high school students throughout the nation have spent their summers terracing, foresting, and working in the conservation of water and soil to reduce the washing away of valuable topsoil. These students are also responsible for planting hundreds of thousands of trees every year in order to rebuild the damaged ecosystem and strengthen the soil systems of the land. Both practices substantially improve the long-term effectiveness of the scores of water detention ponds and dams built to store water for Eritrean farmers.

Aside from that, numerous efforts have been made for the purpose of reversing deforestation and of developing sustainable highland forest management. These include: addressing the causes of deforestation and highland forest degradation; involving the whole community in afforestation and forest conservation efforts; supporting efforts for the re-greening of the degraded landscape and of combating desertification; and developing sound rules and regulations that provide a balanced approach between the environmental and developmental functions of highland forests and the needs of the local community living in and around the highland forest or woodland.

Eritrea’s measures to reforest the country are part of the larger effort to combat desertification. Recently, Eritrea agreed to work with a number of other states across the continent to develop a “green wall” to combat the creeping desertification from the Sahara. The Great Green Wall initiative is a project to plant a wall of trees across Africa at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert to prevent desertification. The initiative is a partnership that supports the effort of local communities in the sustainable management and use of forests, rangelands, and other natural resources in drylands. It also seeks to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. The buffering wall should stabilize soils and keep them moist, slow the drying and scouring effects of the wind, and help restore the micro-climate, thus allowing food crops to grow around the trees. According to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, the goal is to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land by 2030, while removing 250 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere. Notably, at the same time, at least 350,000 rural jobs could be created. The countries currently participating in the initiative, in addition to Eritrea, include Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal.

In Eritrea, the local green campaign, which aims to promote awareness of people to the harms of deforestation and reduce its effects, is held annually on May 15. The annual green campaign initiative was first established in 2006 as a way to expand and consolidate existing greening programs and activities in the country. During the early years of the initiative, there was one green club. However, today there are more than 580 green clubs across the country. Throughout this year’s activities, over 25 million trees were planted and large stretches of the coastline were protected. According to Mr. Estifanos, a variety of species such as wild ass, kudu, ostrich, and monkeys depend on vegetation, thus it is important to conserve and reforest green areas and rangelands. This is to provide a viable atmosphere for the wildlife to thrive. He also added that public awareness of the negative consequences of cutting down trees and hunting has increased, while various communities’ commitment to conservation and protecting wildlife is commendable.

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