Despite snags, Ethiopia scales up massive tree-planting campaign

Braving a heavy downpour, hundreds of farmers spent a full day planting 20,000 acacia seedlings on a barren hillside outside the town of Buee in southern Ethiopia last year.

They were responding to a call last July from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who wanted his countrymen to plant 200 million trees in a single day, shattering the world record.

But while the farmers had “great expectations”, they say that nearly a year later — as Ethiopia gears up to celebrate World Environment Day on Friday — the results in Buee are a disappointment.

Rainfall immediately washed away more than one-third of the seedlings, and those that remain have struggled to grow out of hastily-dug holes filled with poor soil, said Ewnatu Kornen, a local environment official.



The farmers’ ordeal points to the potential pitfalls of mass-planting drives, which are central to Abiy’s “Green Legacy” campaign to promote ecotourism and transform Ethiopia into an environmentally-friendly economy.

Some 353 million seedlings — 153 million more than the initial goal — went into the ground nationwide during last year’s daylong mass-planting, according to official figures.That’s a mere fraction of the four billion trees reportedly planted during the entire 2019 rainy season, which in Ethiopia runs from June to September.

This year’s mass-planting has yet to be scheduled, but Abiy has declared Friday to be the launch of a push for five billion new trees to be planted this rainy season.

Outside Ethiopia, debate has swirled over the credibility of these eye-popping figures.

Yet local experts say there are more important questions: Has the planting been properly organised, and has there been enough follow-up to keep the trees alive?

“It’s not really about the numbers,” said Negash Teklu, head of a group of NGOs known as the Population Health & Environment Ethiopia Consortium.

“It’s about the effectiveness of the tree-planting scheme.”

Belaynesh Zewdie, a forestry expert with the UN Development Programme in Buee, has seen firsthand how projects that lack community buy-in can go awry.

In the late 1980s, under the communist Derg regime, she was involved in a scheme to plant one million acacia trees in the northern Amhara region.

But the scheme was top-down and “forced”, she recalls, and once the regime fell in 1991 angry residents cleared the trees to plough the land. —AFP

Oman Observer

To get free breaking news and updates from Oman Observer, WhatsApp your name and email to 96473232. is now on Telegram. Join our channel in your Telegram and stay updated

observer has 9593 posts and counting.See all posts by observer