History of forests in Ethiopia
Deforestation is severe and has a long history in Ethiopia, especially in the central and northern highlands where subsistence farming and settlements have been changing landscapes for millennia. According to historical estimates, by the early 20th century, a third of Ethiopia was covered in forests but by the 2000’s this estimate has shrunk to about 4 percent.
Efforts to regreen Ethiopia go back to 19th century when Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taytu Betul began tree-planting to provide fuel and building materials for a growing population and to sustain a large army to stave off European colonial encroachment. Their tree of choice? The non-native Eucalyptus.
Native to Australia, the Eucalyptus globulus quickly thrived in African soil and after several generations, it has firmly established itself in Ethiopia’s forest ecosystem, economy and way of life. The tree is loved by smallholders as eucalyptus suits their limited resources and yields more money than other three crops. However, eucalyptus is surrounded by controversies. According to an FAO report, among the concerns are its impacts on the environment. The tree consumes a lot of water, depletes the soil of nutrients, prevents growth of other plants and does not provide adequate habitat for wildlife.
Forest communities for centuries have been using traditional remedies to treat diseases which today is still the primary source of health care for a majority of Ethiopians, not only because of its cultural connection but also in terms of affordability and accessibility. However, the lure of wood as fuel has largely trumped the other services forests and tress provide and harvesting for firewood has led to rapid deforestation and current ecological crisis.
Despite these efforts, in the last 2 decades, dry forests are rapidly being replaced by other land uses, such as small and large-scale agriculture, and settlements
Guidelines on sustainable forest management in drylands of Ethiopia