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“Cutting Trees is Like Amputating Part of My Body”

By - Simon Weldemichael

The title of the article comes from what an exemplary farmer, Mr. Michael Andemariam Hadera, said. In an article by Amare Weldeab that was published in the February 19, 2023 issue of Haddas Ertra, the Tigrigna daily national newspaper, I read about the activities and future plans of this exemplary farmer, who lives in Arberebu’e, on the Asmara-Massawa road. Here, I will provide the key points from the extensive interview to introduce the actions taken by and the intention of Mr. Michael Andemariam and share my general observation of the reforestation and afforestation programs in Eritrea.

Eleven kilometers on the Asmara-Massawa road, you encounter an eye-catching scene on the steep slope to the right of the road. The cliff is terraced, the gorge blocked, the ponds filled and the barren land cultivated. The land has been transformed into such an attractive scenery by the diligence and creativity of Mr. Michael, the exemplary farmer. Mr. Michael has a diploma in agriculture and had worked at the Ministry of Agriculture’s branch in Anseba region for six years until he went to Sawa in 2008 for his national service.

Arberebu’e, Mr. Michael’s home village, is mountainous and not suitable for farming. However, he took an initiative in 2003 to level the land and plant trees. Since then he, along with his family, has invested a lot to change the nature of the area. He has undertaken various initiatives to enhance soil fertility and water infiltration in the mountainous landscape.

Mr. Michael said that upon his return from Sawa, in collaboration with his two brothers, he constructed three bridges as well as ponds that cost half a million Nakfa. Initially he planted 200 orange seedlings that he brought from Hamelmalo Agricultural College, but they didn’t grow due to shortage of water and associated problems. Having learned from the experience, he decided not only to grow fruits but also to raise animals. Mr. Michael now grows fruits such as guava, apple and orange and raises animals, including goats, sheep, cows and camels. He has also levelled 3550 meter square of land to grow animal feed.

Sustainable agriculture and agroforestry play a key role in combating environmental crisis and food shortage by increasing crop yields, diversifying food and income sources, and improving the ecosystem. Mr. Michael intends to build agroforestry by growing high valued trees and shrubs alongside livestock production. To sustainably manage the land used for crop cultivation, it is important to adequately address the increasing concern of enhancing the conservation of biodiversity on lands surrounding the farm.

Mr. Michael is operating in a mountainous area. The steeper slopes on the farmland add to the cost of maintaining the farms, and there are high production and reproductive costs. Notwithstanding its cost, mountain farming has contributed a lot to sustainable development. Mr. Michael has diversified his agriculture by integrating tree planting and animal husbandry in the harsh and difficult environment.

A century ago, 30% of the total land area of Eritrea was covered with abundant and diverse flora. However, mismanagement of land during the century of colonization, the thirty year of war of liberation and recurrent droughts reduced areas covered by vegetation to merely 1 % in 1997. Mr. Michael is carrying out intensive afforestation activities. Tree planting has been his top priority in mountain farming. Since 2007 he has planted 13,735 seedlings — 6185 eucalyptus, 7500 sisal and 50 black pepper. The trees have a lot of potential to rebuild the resilience of the farming system through the conservation of biological diversity and the provision of essential ecosystem.

In Eritrea, reforestation is becoming a popular strategy to protect the country’s remaining forests and to restore degraded lands. The government has taken several steps to encourage the people to plant trees in areas where they live. The summer campaign, a national program commonly known as kremtawi maetot, is one of the significant initiatives of the government that started in 1994 to encourage secondary school students to play their role in restoring the environment by planting trees and performing other environment friendly activities. Reforestation serves many purposes. It improves the quality of air, enhances soil and water conservation and provides an important habitat for animals. When forests are destroyed, wild animals lose their habitats and move away. As part of the efforts for the restoration and conservation of the natural environment, the Forestry and Wildlife Conservation and Development Proclamation was issued in 2006.

Mr. Michael, who is very much aware of the importance of trees, said, “Trees are beneficial for you, your country and the world. The life of all living things depends on trees.” He has taken a quarter of a million Nakfa in loan to cultivate the area while he continues to give his national service. He waters the plants by fetching water using jerricans loaded on camels. In the future he plans to introduce an irrigation that can work in a mountainous landscape.

Besides the topographical challenge, Mr. Michael has to protect his plants from being eaten by animals. He has planted 7500 sisals on the margins which are serving as fence. Speaking about the usefulness of sisals, Mr. Michael said, “They have many benefits. They prevent soil erosion, their rods are used for construction and as fire wood, their flowers attract bees, and their ever green looks make for a good scenery.” The sisals are also preventing people from cutting trees. Commenting on the people acting irresponsibly, Mr. Michael said, “I see a person who cuts trees as amputating part of my body. Any person who cuts trees without the knowledge of the concerned body is destroying the life of all creatures.” He called for a revision of the methods of patrolling and the rules and regulations to protect trees.

Mr. Michael’s project is a family farm project. As such he is not motivated exclusively by profit. This is particularly important in mountainous areas, where the time and other resources required for their maintenance are generally high. Family farms are largely operated with low external inputs. In addition to his personal vision and ambition Mr. Michael always has a family on his side. He said, “My wife, my three sons, who are now mobilized for the defense of the country, and those who are at home motivate me to work.” According to FAO’s working definition, family farming is a means of organizing diversified agricultural practices that is managed and operated by a family and is predominantly reliant on family labor, including both women’s and men’s. In Eritrea, family farming is one of the most predominant form of agriculture.

Farmer-led initiatives in restoring the environment and practicing diversified agriculture are important. In expressing his plans for the future, Mr. Michael said, “Nothing comes before a country. When my sons return from their duty of national defense, I plan to further develop and expand afforestation and bee keeping and to plant 2000 seedlings per year.”

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