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WB finances pilot project

- 92,000 hectares of forest lost in a year

The World Bank Group (WB) last week granted a USD 18 million for a newly introduced forest protection pilot program dubbed Oromia Forest Landscape Program (OFLP) in the Oromia Regional State, and aims to replicate its success across the country in ten years’ time.

Launching the program in Chillimo village some 85 km northeast of Addis Ababa, Stephen Danyo, natural resources management specialist with the World Bank Ethiopia country office, told The Reporter that the community is taking a participatory approach to manage the forest in order to secure livelihoods, jobs, and to conserve water which is also used by downstream communities as well.

For that reason, the new forest protection program, which has received a USD 18 million grant for the first five years, has kick-started in Chillimo as the village is recognized as one of the spots having tress recognized to be “old, indigenous and originally rich”. But at the same time the forest is facing continued deforestation threats. According to Stephen, there is not much forest coverage left in the country.

Seconding the concerns of Stephen, Aberra Tefessihu, board chairman of the Chilliomo-Gagi Forest Cooperatives Union, said that the forest coverage of the area back in the times of the emperors used to be around 22,000 hectares of land. But that was significantly reduced during the period of Italian occupation when Fascist forces introduced technologies sourcing timber from the Chillimo forest. Within their five-year occupation, they reduced the forest coverage so dramatically that it was only 12,000 hectares by the time they left, Aberra recounts. From then on, the forest was duly protected until the incumbent government came to power. Aberra cites a study conducted by Farm Africa, an NGO that helped to raise awareness of participatory forest management to the villagers. Based on studies in early 1990s, the total forest coverage at Chillimo further dwindled to somewhere around 5,000 hectares.  Because of the participatory forest management approach, 12 forest associations have been formed to protect the forest. Hence, some of the newly introduced, non-indigenous trees is regularity generating incomes to the communities in and around the forest. Currently, some 3,000 people live in the general area.

Degu Woldegiorgis, a father of seven and a member of the Chillimo-Gagi Forest Cooperatives Union, says that the forest remains to be the single main source of livelihood to the community. However, due to a high demographic pressure and an increasing rate of youth unemployment, deforestation has become a day-to-day threat. He calls on the government to consider creating job opportunities for the youth in the community.

Yitebitu Moges (PhD), the national coordinator of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program in Ethiopia, agrees that demographic pressure at the national level is threatening the existence of forest in Ethiopia. According to Yitebitu, after years of engagement with communities that live adjacent to forested areas, there are currently signs of change with the way people consider the uses of tress.

He says projects such as the OFLP are essential to promoting the benefits of forest preservation, scientifically guided management and use of forestry resources. The launch of the WB-financed program adds a great deal of financial and technical capacity to the country in order to reap the benefits of reducing emissions so long as the coverage of forest in the country is kept intact, if not increased. Currently, the total forest coverage in Ethiopia is estimated to be around 15.5 percent of the land. A forest cover in Ethiopia, according to Yitebitu, is where it covers half a hectare of land, and if the canopy covers 20 percent of the land size and if the tress are two meters in height. However, the country remains in a deficit balance of forest coverage across the low and highlands where annually 92,000 hectares of forest is cleared and only 20,000 hectares is reforested, leaving a huge negative balance, Yitebitu said.