This year, Ethiopia broke a world record by planting 350 million trees in just 12 hours. Afforestation, the act of planting trees in barren or deforested land, is a key goal in the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Green Legacy Initiative.
Ethiopia is located in the Horn of Africa, in northeast Africa, sharing a large border with Eritrea. Ethiopia is a landlocked country, meaning it has no coastline, and combined with the second highest population in Africa it is very vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The country’s landscape is very diverse, with deserts in the east and tropical forests in the west.
THE IMPORTANCE OF AFFORESTATION
Afforestation, when done correctly can have many beneficial effects. One of the most important is combating climate change. Trees produce oxygen and take in carbon dioxide. This is a key greenhouse gas which leads to the warming of our planet. This is bad because it will result in less rain and hotter summers for countries like Ethiopia. One tree can absorb up to 22kg a year, and planting 500 billion trees could remove a quarter of all carbon in the atmosphere.
Planting trees also helps the environment in other ways such as fighting drought. Trees, and other plant life, bring moisture into an area as when plants make their food, they also produce water. 6,000 years ago Northern Africa supported lots of green vegetation and was much wetter than today. Today, Ethiopia is experiencing its second severe drought in two years and afforestation could help prevent it in the future.
THE GREEN LEGACY INITIATIVE
This Ethiopian Initiative is an excellent example of how effective governance action can be used to tackle environmental issues. Agriculture is Ethiopia’s main industry. Agriculture can be very harmful to the environment because of pesticides and the risk of depleting the soil’s nutrients which results in drought and food shortages.
The initiative aims to educate Ethiopians on the environment and actively encourage them to take part in restoring it. It is hoped that getting citizens to actively engage with their environment will help them take more steps to protect it. These steps can be as simple as moving away from using wood to fuel households.
WILL IT BE A SUCCESS?
Politically, the initiative will be a success for the Prime Minister as it has improved his reputation with other countries. However, environmentally the initiative may not be as successful as initially thought. Mass plantings of millions of trees can put stress on soils and the environment by increasing their acidity due to an excess of decaying leaves, and through drying out the soil as so many trees are using up water.
Because Ethiopia has such a diverse environment, it is important that the trees planted were chosen specifically for each ecosystem so the species already present can remain. Nevertheless, although there are chances that the afforestation may not be as successful as possible, it is encouraging to see such drastic steps taken by such a prominent African leader, and hopefully this will encourage other nations, globally, to take action.