In cities, villages, inside the compounds of diplomatic missions and higher educations; and those in between – gathered this week, to plant trees following in the footsteps of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD). There has been much interest in helping him realize a dream – as something of a national call for action.
In Bole, Michael Beyene and his friends closed their corner store to follow the phenomena and do what they assumed was a citizenry call of duty. Hopping it would be a regular ritual for them; they managed to plant dozens of trees for the good part of the morning, despite the heavy summer rains.
“At first, we assumed we would just watch others do it and we did not believe in the effort initially. We thought it was a lofty goal that sounded “Hollywood like or something to appease a foreign donor,”Michael told The Reporter. “And then, slowly but surely, it seemed everyone wanted to get involved. Everywhere we went it became a point of discussion. Then, a friend suggested we do it and here we are.”
“We are happy to have taken part and be part of a larger conversation on the environment and what kind of legacy we want to leave for future generations. The initiative has made us come closer to one another and we feel we are part of something profoundly big and great and we hope to do it regularly,” he added.
At the end of the 12 hour shift on Monday – the political leadership of the nation claimed to have planted an eye raising 350 million plus trees and is planning to plant a few billion more, totaling 4 billion – something of a world record. If verified, this would surpass what was achieved in India in 2016, when 800,000 volunteers planted a record 50 million trees.
For no reason given, the Guinness World Record has not been able to verify the high numbers, but this has not stopped the praise coming towards the leadership of Ethiopia.
“Reforestation is one of the most effective methods for combating global warming,” tweeted Canada’s noted environmentalists, Elizabeth May, who is noted for her work in Ethiopia during the 1984 famine, now an aspiring Prime Minister praising the initiatives.
“If every country can break records for planting trees like Ethiopia, we can counter the effects of deforestation and climate change,” echoed the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Amina J Mohammed.
For Inger Anderson, the Executive Director of United Nations Environment, what Ethiopia has achieved was something to emulate. “Nature provides elegant solutions to the climate crises. Ethiopia planted 350 million trees in 12 hours. What a great example of climate change,” the United Nations official said.
The Prime Minister, who continues to garner praise from the west and who has also a realistic chance to win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for his effort to bring peace and stability with its neighbor Eritrea,however, has been criticized for ignoring some important issues – including conflicts, displacements, high unemployment, and a dwindling interest from foreign investors.
Since ascending to the Premiership, he has been presenting a slew of reforms such as a call for democracy, human rights and the rule of law – to lukewarm successes. While admiring the effort, some pointed-outtheir reservation on the long term vision of the Green Legacy Initiative.
“As a political ecologist, I have some reservations with #GreenLegacyEthiopia, while I should note that the initiative seeks to improve social and ecological conditions and animate individuals to be concerned and gain valuable knowledge with biodiversity,” said Jonah Wedekind, a PhD candidate based in Berlin, who is doing his research on large scale investment on bio-fuel projects in the overarching context of the Ethiopian green growth strategy (CRGE).
“As other analysts have already said, the danger is that the initiative is first and foremost national unity campaign than an environmental onethat glosses over local and regional instabilities and conflicts, and seems to exaggerate the number of trees planted. It does not fully address the last two decades of curtailing grassroots environmental justice organizations in Ethiopia. This is linked to my second point about the initiative itself being rather top-down & eco-populist which potentially leads to ignoring the intricate complexities of local socio-ecological and economic conditions on the ground,” he added.
However, the political ecologist is quick to acknowledge some lessons learned from past afforestation complexities.
“The government has indeed learned from the history of eucalyptus planting to the extent that indigenous seedlings were used during the Green Legacy Initiative and statistical surveys of drought prone and deforested areas were done in advance, following a new national forestry law released in 2018”. He, however, questions “how in tune is all this with the local social-ecological realities and needs?”
“Therefore, I acknowledge that the impacts of the legacy initiative need to be studied as of now, to clearly assess its impact,” he added.
AzebWorku is quick to acknowledge, she is definitely not your average tree planter, nor one concerned with the environment. But, that is quickly changing, for her and her family, after her eldest daughter convinced her, there was something she did not see in the planting of trees.
“I had misgivings about it at the beginning. I assumed Ethiopia has many issues to deal with and I did not see the solutions lied on trees. But then, I began to realize through my child, that we cannot and should not expect our government to come up with every solution to our problems, but that every citizen can get involved and be the driver of finding solutions. It’s rich of us to be mere observers, but be a citizen that participates.”
Her next door neighbor, Aster Asnake, a 43 year old accountant, was not convinced that the effort is worthwhile and refused to take part in it.
“What is the point of planting trees if there is no strategy to see it grow in to something great? The problem with Ethiopia is not on building something, but maintaining it once it has been built. The tree planting is such. How are we going to take care of these plants? Do we have the means? Who is going to fund it and take care of it? Until then, I will just watch and observe, and maybe I will get on the bandwagon later on,” she shrugged.