· Ethiopia’s economy is based on agriculture and around 85% of the population earn their livelihood from agricultural based activities.
· The main causes depleting natural forests are attrributed to agricultural encroachments in the forests and overgrazing with detrimental effects on natural regeneration. It is alarming to observe unsustainable human activities in forestlands, which leads to not only deforestation, but also forest degradation.
· Forests are under tremendous pressure from a growing population and therefore innovative strategies are required to support their sustainable management.
· Since the inception of Participatory Forest Management (PFM) in 1996, over 500,000ha of forest has been put under PFM.
· Different studies have demonstrated the positive impact of PFM on the environment, with enhanced forest regeneration, respect for new forest boundaries, planting of degraded land, reappearance of wild animals, forest products used wisely and the occurance of forest fires considerably minimized.
Sahlemariam Mezmur - Participatory forest management advisor
Production of high quality and quantity of timber is the main goal of conventional forest management in Ethiopia. Vast areas of community forest (defined as low quality forest by the natural resource department) was cleared out and changed to plantations. Other extensive forest products and services did not get due attention. As a result, the traditional knowledge associated with the utilization of these forest products and traditional forest management skills were eroded. Such an approach ends with forest biodiversity extinction and the loss of community trust towards the forest.
The annual deforestation rate, according to 1998 studies, is 163,600 ha/annum. This figure also agrees with previous estimates of annual deforestation rates which was about 150,000 – 200,000 ha (EFAP, 1994). The main causes for the depletion of natural forests are agricultural encroachment and overgrazing, with detrimental effects on natural regeneration.
It is alarming to observe unsustainable human activities in forests leading not only to deforestation, but also forest degradation. This has been the case with natural high altitude forests and woodlands in Ethiopia. A considerable area of what was once a closed forest has been converted to a heavily disturbed forest. For example, between 1973 and 1990, closed high forests decreased from 2.64% to 0.2% of Ethiopia’s land area (Reusing, 1998).
Continued deforestation and forest degradation reveals that conventional approaches practiced to manage the forests in Ethiopia have been unable to guarantee the conservation of these resources. The extensive control of the state over forests and the local communities’ claim of traditional rights has always been a source of conflict. The unilateral management by a single body – the government, has not assured sustainable forest management.
It was therefore found necessary to consider a management system in which local people have defined control with rights and obligations over forest resources leading to sustainable use. In this regard, communities living in and around some forest areas have already shown interest and capability to manage these forests.
Since the inception of Participatory Forest Management (PFM) in 1996, over 500,000 ha of forests are now under PFM. Different studies have demonstrated the positive impact of PFM on the environment, with enhanced forest regeneration, respect for new forest boundaries, planting and rehabilitation of degraded land, the reappearance of wild animals, the wise use of forest products and the occurence of forest fires considerably minimized.
Income generated from the PFM sites improved and diversified through better management of natural resources. Communities have been empowered on decision-making and the level of access to common resources and benefit from sharing mechanisms with government. The progress demonstrated so far has encouraged government to scale up PFM throughout the country.
Federal Forest Policy and Forest Proclamation
Generally, the policy for the environment has enabled PFM in the country. For the first time in the history of the country, there is now a Federal Forest Policy and a revised Forest Proclamation.
This, in fact, needs a collaboration with respect to community based natural resource management. The constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (Proclamation No.1/1995) provides the basic and comprehensive principles and guidelines for environmental protection and management. Under article 92, it is stated that every citizen has the right to live in a clean and healthy environment.
In spite of the success stories, it can be clearly seen that PFM is not moving forward as it should in Ethiopia. Professionals or foresters’ reservations about the possibility of the community managing forests, the skepticism of rural communities about new ideas and inefficient law enforcement are some challenges facing the establishment and implementation of PFM in Ethiopia.
For a wider scale implementation of PFM, based on current experiences, strong political support is needed. This could start by providing clear elaboration, in simple terms, to the forest policy and proclamation with regards to Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM), paving the way forward for the devolution of management responsibilities over some forests to local communities.
It is possible to expand PFM in a viable way in areas where it is most suited. Depending on the forest condition, socio-economic situation, etc, various forms of PFM ranging between complete transferring of management to collaborative arrangements can be worked out.
Mohammed Shemsu Suleyman: Ministry of agriculture, Ethiopia
Ethiopia’s economy is based on agriculture and around 85% of the population’s livelihood is dependent on agricultural based activities. This means the livelihood of farmers is directly or indirectly based on natural resources. In spite of giving low attention for forest development and protection for many years, the fertility of soil became has decreased and the country has become vulnerable to natural disasters.
However, reforestation and soil conservation activities over the last two decades has minimized the risk of natural disasters and several related changes are recorded. The total forest coverage of the country has increased from 4% to 13% which is a progressive change.
Likewise, promoting the development of forestry contributes to food security and increases the economy. The different day to day activities are promoting the achievement of forest development. For these achievements to be met, the capacity of the community is crucial one. In order to make use of community capacity, public relations plays a substantial role. The work of public relations provides better awareness to the community on forest development and management and enables them to participate in these activities.
The government has contributed to human resources and provided training in order to intensify the structure of public relations. It is also possible to provide information to the community regarding forest development and related agricultural development activities through printed and electronic media. In addition to this, higher officials and journalists participate in field days and experience sharing have been prepared.
Moreover, by leasing air time (radio and television), it is possible to create awareness to the community regarding forest development and related agricultural development activities. The above mentioned activities are the basic strength of public relation functions. By doing this, it is possible to change the livelihood of the community in a positive manner.
On the other hand, the sector has got some challenges and constraints to overcome. These are:
· In some areas, awareness levels of the community regarding forest development and management is low.
· Scarcity of budget and manpower for the production and distribution of communication materials and tools.
· Lack of intensified and technological forest development and management information system and research.
· Lack of integration and sustainable support among the bodies found in the sector.
· There is no well established systems to make use of experience gained in different countries.
In order to alleviate these constraints it is important to:
· Do continuous public relations work able to create integration among various sectors in forest development.
· Strengthen public relations institutions and information system technology.
· Provide training for public relations experts in order to increase their capacity.
· Provide information regarding the benefits of forest development in order to conserve it.
· Apply positive pressure on government and other support bodies to pay proper attention to the issues.
· Make use of all necessary tools available to public relations in effective and efficient ways and make it accessible to all areas and bodies.
In conclusion, by avoiding basic constraints in all areas and encouraging participation of the community to the maximum, it is possible to boost the countries green economic development.
Make a dramatic change on forest development and management by doing accessible and effective public relation.