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Africa

Ethiopia Says It’s Planted 350 Million Trees to Combat Climate Change. Will It Work?

The mass tree plantation effort may do more harm than good if factors like the ecological compatibility of plants are overlooked.

Locals plant avocado trees in Ethiopia's Katbare region in July 2011. (Image Credit: Threes ForTheFuture/Flickr)
Locals plant avocado trees in Ethiopia's Katbare region in July 2011. (Image Credit: Threes ForTheFuture/Flickr)

Ethiopia claims that it has set a new world record by planting over 353 million trees in 12 hours as a part of the national Green Legacy initiative to tackle deforestation and the effects of climate change.

How many trees were planted will remain a matter of debate over the coming weeks and months. But Adis Ababa put virtually the state machinery to work to achieve the objectives of the campaign, which took place in the first week of August. Schools and public offices remained closed to allow students and civil servants to take part in the reforestation program.

Ethiopia says it’s broken the present single-day record held by India, where 50 million trees were planted in the state of Uttar Pradesh in 2016. And it has much bigger plans.

This record-setting tree planting is only a small part of the nation’s Green Legacy initiative which aims to plant a total of four billion trees by October 2019. Ethiopia is among more than two dozen African countries that have pledged to achieve the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative goal of restoring 100 million hectares of land on the continent by 2030.

The initiative aims to tackle the effects of climate crisis and deforestation by educating Ethiopians on the environment and plantation in the drought-prone country.  The East African country has suffered, perhaps more than any other country, from the environmental degradation with severe droughts, soil erosion, and flash floods resulting in famine, food shortages, soil erosion, mass displacement, and death.

According to the United Nations, forest coverage in Ethiopia “has declined drastically to a low of just 4 percent in the 2000s from 35 percent a century earlier.”

Reforestation is considered one of the most effective ways to fight the climate crisis. According to a study by a Swiss research center, if trees were to be planted in the 900 million hectares of land presently not used by human beings worldwide, they could store “about two thirds of the 300 billion tonnes of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere as a result of human activity since the Industrial Revolution.”

But Ethiopia does not have a good track record with reforestation campaigns, due to the introduction of non-native species like the eucalyptus, which “had a destructive impact on land, caused soil acidity, and destroyed nearby plants because of their speedy growth.” Ethiopia appears to be repeating many mistakes from the past.

Now, Ethiopia isn’t the only country committed to reforestation. The Chinese government has pledged to increase total forest coverage from 21.7 percent to 23 percent by 2020. In a bid to fight pollution more aggressively, China withdrew 60,000 soldiers from their posts on the northern border and reassigned them to plant trees.

In 2015, Pakistan started a ”billion tree tsunami” initiative under which the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa planted a billion trees. After the success of the provincial campaign, the federal government of Pakistan has launched a new plantation drive under which 10 billion trees will be planted all over Pakistan.

So in the coming years, the world will see a surge in new tree plantations. But it is worth remembering that the key to sustainable reforestation is choosing the right plants.

Urooj Tarar covers South Asia and pivot states for Globely News. She previously worked for the English-language edition of Daily Pakistan.

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