Ethiopia claimed a new world record on Monday, 29th July when approximately 350 million trees were planted across the country. Getahun Mekuria, Minister of Innovation and Technology, broke the news on Monday evening that the initial goal of 200 million trees had surpassed and that 353,633,660 million trees had been planted in 12 hours. Some schools and public offices were closed to allow as many people as possible to take part. Monday’s effort is part of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Green Legacy Initiative to plant four billion trees between May and October, coinciding with the rainy season. The initiative is aimed at fighting climate change and deforestation by increasing Ethiopia’s forest coverage.
News of Ethiopia’s efforts has been well received, particularly by environmental groups such as Greenpeace who tweeted their support. Dr Dan Ridley Ellis, head of the Centre for Wood and Technology at Edinburgh Napier University, was also supportive, describing Monday’s action as ‘a truly impressive feat’.
Others, however, are not convinced that the initiative will be the panacea to cure Ethiopia’s environmental woes. Legesse Nagash, a lecturer in the Department of Plant Biology and Biodiversity Management at Addis Ababa University, voiced concern that the scale could endanger the viability of the mass planting. Legesse told Ethiopian newspaper Fortune: ‘I think we should stop fooling ourselves with quantity and begin to focus on quality, such that a reasonably larger proportion of seedlings will flourish’.
Concerns that the efforts of the Green Legacy Initiative will be for nothing are understandable. Planting millions and millions of trees is just one day is a fantastic start but if the saplings are not properly maintained, then it will have been in vain. Ethiopian News Agency reported that of the 4.5 billion tree seedlings planted between 2000 and 2015, only 20-30% survived so the initiative’s success is still unclear.
A low survival rate among the saplings would be a terrible shame but it should not detract from the effort being made. Ethiopia’s commitment to restoring forest coverage is brilliant and should be commended. It would be wonderful if other countries could stop congratulating Ethiopia for long enough to start their own reforestation schemes.
Because as Ethiopia was busy planting 350 million trees, four million hectares of Siberian forest was burning on the same day that humanity officially started using up more natural resources than the planet can produce in a year. This was the earliest Earth Overshoot Day so far.
Perhaps Ethiopia feels the urgency more than other countries because it has been badly affected by climate change so maybe it feels the urgency more than other countries. In 2017, over two million animals died in the drought including livestock, meaning a loss of livelihood for many. Climate change has also affected the country’s energy sector. Ethiopia started rationing power in May after water levels dropped at the Gibe 3 hydro-electric dam. Exports to neighbouring Sudan and Djibouti also had to be stopped.
Ethiopia’s efforts are considerable and hopefully the Green Legacy Initiative will be successful. Monday showed just how much can be achieved in one day when people work together to save the environment. If this could be replicated worldwide, then maybe we would have a chance of not killing the planet.