EPRDF: Regenerating Ethiopia
Amen Teferi 01-23-17
Severing the longstanding and seemingly natural interconnectedness between droughts and famine in Ethiopia, I would say, is a flagship achievement for the EPRDF. Drought only leads to famine when we fail to put in place appropriate political and economic policies that suit the realities we are operating in. Moreover, the absence of political commitment on the part of the leadership can be a culprit that leads a nation from drought to famine. However, our experiences last year have taught us that famine does not necessarily follow drought.
Ethiopia had faced last year the worst drought in half a century, but it has successfully thwarted that disaster and has created a road map that would enable it to respond to any climate emergencies in the future.
The trials of the worst emergency that Ethiopia had faced last year have helped her to develop staunch optimism and resilient nerves. As Premier Hailemariam Desalegn had said last week to the parliament the drought and the political upheaval we had experienced last year were very daunting, much as they were good opportunity to test the resilience the country has built over the last two decades.
The harshest drought had crippled the country’s agricultural lowlands.
Famine, possibly biblical in scope, loomed. By August, more than 4 million Ethiopians were receiving emergency food rations. Soon, officials were reporting that supplies weren’t enough. Rains hadn’t come for almost a year, leaving rivers empty and groundwater overdrawn. Crop yields in some regions failed and cattle began to die and acute malnutrition among babies, children, and mothers was on the rise.
In two months the number of people needing emergency food had doubled to 8.2 million, prompting the government to officially request humanitarian aid and by December 10.2 million people needed food. When conditions were stable there were many people chronically food-insecure who had been receiving aid. Now the government has to continue to help these and those living in the drought affected areas skyrocketing the number of needy people to more than 18 million—nearly a fifth of the country’s population.
Put aside the challenge of paying for and securing provisions enough for millions of people affected. The logistics of rapidly disseminating so much aid was itself mind-numbing. To save the beacon, “you have to get the dollars in the bank, the food through shipping ports, into warehouses, and into people’s homes,” says John Aylieff, a United Nations World Food Program executive who has overseen aid programs throughout Africa and Asia. “It can’t happen overnight, it might take three months or more.”
Ethiopia had faced the crisis of hunger and malnourished children at a time when it was striving to be an industrialized, middle-income country. Ethiopia’s partners were grumbling that “the disaster hadn’t been anticipated sooner, nor more swiftly declared a crisis and that the government was reluctant to admit that it is facing problems of hunger.”
While international aid partners were grumbling and scrambling to fill the funding and supply void, something unprecedented had happened. Ethiopia became the lead investor in its own survival. After more than a decade of strong economic growth, the government was able to divert huge flows of domestic revenue into the drought response.
The country’s aid partners were surprised as Ethiopia proved herself to be fit to respond to a drought that loom a huge crisis with no human fatalities. This response has stunned its international partners who later suggested that “other southern African nations could look to Ethiopia for a blueprint in building resilience against the climate pressures ahead.”
We have again faced with another crisis and we feel that we are up to the task. We are not only focusing on emergency responses but also have created a road map that would enable us to respond to any climate emergencies in the future.
Ethiopia is a country where natural resources degradation has been going on for centuries. At present Ethiopia is facing a serious ecological imbalance triggered mainly by the fast increment of its population size that has led to a destructive cycle of land use pattern, involving deforestation followed by continuous cropping and grazing with little or no investment on the soil. This pattern leaves few opportunities for the natural vegetation to regenerate, making the land more susceptible to erosion, affecting hydrological cycle and altering regimes of the rivers. Changing this situation calls for better management of the natural resources including putting appropriate policies and regulation to facilitate better environment management.
Over the past few years, Ethiopia has admirably worked hard to increase its forest coverage that enabled the communities to increase their incomes. Communities at the local level are now willing to be involved in a reforestation program and are undertaking bigger schemes.
When the Ethiopian government realized that outright bans on cutting down trees failed to stop deforestation, it instead turned to a strategy based on enlisting the help of forest communities. On among these schemes is the participatory forest management (PFM). Even though we have taken a much longer time to kick off the first reforestation project that enabled us to rectify foully in our reforestation effort. To cover the seriously degraded land with forest, we have launched the first participatory forest management (PFM) schemes 15 years ago.
The first participatory forest management (PFM) schemes that were piloted 15 years ago has shown encouraging signs of success and thus it is now being rolled out in larger areas. For instance, this particularly ambitious participatory forest management scheme is taking place in the southern region of Oromia, i.e. on mountains of Bale which cover 500,000 hectares land. This project is run by Farm Africa, a British NGO, in partnership with a local NGO called SOS Sahel.
Over the last few centuries Ethiopia has experienced such a massive deforestation that has speedily brought its forest coverage from 40% in the 16th century down to 4.6% a decade ago. Pressure on the forests comes from a rapidly growing human population and a huge livestock that have a result of 0.8% deforestation a year. In a situation where we have a human demographic structure with over 80% rural population (85 million) that relies on rain-fed agriculture and herding 70 million livestock, such acute pressure on land and forests is inevitable.
Accelerated population growth and huge livestock resource would put a daunting pressure on land and forests. Thus, Ethiopia has been experiencing a staggering rate of deforestation i.e. 0.8% per annum.
Mobilizing the community to reverse this trend really requires resilience and resources. Thus, introducing a participatory forest management (PFM) schemes to our rural communities was difficult as the community would not welcome a restrictive scheme, such as the PFM, that would deny them free access to resources in the forest and they would no longer continue with the easy way of coming and going as they wish.
Therefore, the government has employed a kind of carrot and stick approach to persuade the community and mobilize them to willingly participate in reforestation programs. The government has triggered specter of eviction in the minds of the community representatives who live in areas where we have forest. Officials bused forest dwellers hundreds of kilometers to areas that had suffered extensive deforestation to show them the bleak future that was in store once the forests had disappeared. The government took community representatives to degraded areas so they could see the results of failing to take proper care of forests.
Pcomes from a rapidly growing population – 85 million – with over 80% living in rural areas, relying on rain-fed agriculture. The 70 million livestock put pressure on from that is now galloping to hit 100 million and the a baseline of perhaps to the country is