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Facts and Information on Ethiopian Forest Degradation

In the early 20th century, about 35 - 40% of Ethiopia was covered by forests. With the inclusion of savanna woodlands, some 66% of the country was originally covered with forest and woodlands (Bishaw 2001). Ethiopia has diverse vegetation resources that range from lowland scrubs to tropical rainforest. The forest resources comprise both natural and planted forests. The natural forests are also different types: moist and dry tropical Afromontane forests, woodlands, and shrub lands. Planted forests comprise industrial, pre-urban energy planation and small-scale woodlots (Bekele, 2014)


There is significant deforestation in Ethiopia. The main drivers include: rapid population growth, extensive forest clearing for agriculture, over grazing and cutting forests for fuelwood and construction materials without replanting reduced Ethiopia’s forest area to 16 present in the 1950s and to 3.1% by 1982 (UNEP, 1983).


There has been great efforts to reforest the country to address shortage of fuelwood and construction materials, and to promote soil and water conservation on the highlands. In Ethiopia, planation forests began near the turn of the nineteenth century, when Emperor Menelik requested a fast growing tree species be planted to overcome the fuelwood shortage faced at that time. During the early 1900’s most of Addis Ababa was reportedly covered by forests; in 1964, eucalyptus plantations covered about 13,500 ha. (FAO, 1985).


According to FAO, 2015, Ethiopia’s forest cover was estimated to be 11.4% or about 12,499,356 ha., and planted forest account for 972,000 ha. According to FAO 2010, Ethiopia lost an average of 140,900 ha. or 0.93% of forest per year between 1990 and 2010. In total, Ethiopia lost 18.6% of its forest cover, or around 2, 818,000 ha. in 20 years.


The primary cause of deforestation has been exponential population growth. Since 1960, Ethiopia's population has grown five-fold, soaring to more than 100 million people. This tremendous growth has led to an increase in the demand for crops and grazing land and wood for fuel and construction. In addition, the rapid development of settlements in forests has resulted in the conversion of forested land into agriculture, and the necessity to develop infrastructure and road networks in proximity to forests.


The government of Ethiopia is making utmost effort to reverse deforestation on one hand while rehabilitating degraded forestlands on the other. Among the measures taken the most prominent include: adoption and upscaling of participatory forest management approach to most natural forest blocks, watershed based afforestation, area exclosures, institutional reform by establishing a new Ministry of Environment and Forests, and legal framework improvement both at Federal and Regional scale. Ethiopia is also keen in implementing REDD+ to generate incentives for improved forest management. These all changes are improving and expected to improve forest management outcomes in Ethiopia.


Battling the massive deforestation, since 2005 there have been great government lead efforts to reforest the country, and in 2019 Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched the “Green Legacy” initiative, planting 4 billion trees in a single year and 353 million on a single day (July 31, 2019). In April of 2020, the prime minister committed to planting 5 billion trees during the rainy season (from July through August, 2020).

Article by:

Prof. Badege Bishaw, PhD

Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society

Oregon State University

Corvallis, OR, 97331

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