Ethiopia is largely an agrarian country with over 90% of its population living in rural areas. Of the currently estimated population of 62 million, the subsistence agricultural sector engages nearly 85% of the work force. Agriculture is the cornerstone of the economy contributing about 53% of the GDP and accounts for more than 90% of all exports. The low level of productivity of the agricultural sector, coupled with the recurrent drought has made the country poor with a per capita income of US$ 106 per annum. The annual growth rate of the GDP has been sluggish averaging about 4.9% in 1994/95 (CSA, 1995).
In an agrarian society like Ethiopia, forestry can play significant role in economic development. The forestry GDP as a proportion of the whole economy and in relation to agriculture has been very low. The share of forestry in the GDP varied between 2% and 2.6% from 1971 to 1985 and declined to 1.9% between 1986 and 1987. The share of forestry in the agricultural GDP varied between 3.8% and 4.8% during 1971-1985 and declined to 3.7% in 1986 and 1987. If direct consumption of commodities such as fuel wood and charcoal and the indirect contributions of forests to watershed management and soil conservation as well as that of forest products utilised in other manufacturing and construction activities are considered in the calculation, the contribution of forestry to the total GDP and agricultural GDP will be much higher amounting to about 10% and more (EARO, 1998).
Forestry’s contribution to employment generation is not documented. Most forestry operations are undertaken in rural Ethiopia and a large number of labourers are required for forest nursery operations, afforestation and for the construction and maintenance of roads. This is a major source of income for the rural people. People also profit from forestry employment through firewood, charcoal collection and sales, incense and gum collection. Fuel wood production is by far the largest employment generator accounting for nearly 50% of the total forestry employment, followed by afforestation contributing for about 34%. Forest industry employment amounted to about 2.2% of the total work force in the country and contributed 2.8% to employment in the agricultural sector in 1988/1989 (EFAP,1992).
The major cause of deforestation is rapid population growth, which leads to an increase in the demand for crop and grazing land, wood for fuel and construction. Lack of viable land use policy and corresponding law also aggravated the rate of deforestation. New settlements in forests are increasing from time to time and hence resulted in the conversion of forested land into agricultural and other land use systems. At present, the few remaining high forests are threatened by pressure from investors who are converting the moist evergreen montane forests into other land use systems such as coffee and tea plantations.
The average volume per hectare for closed high forests is estimated to range from 30-120 m3 per hectare and 5-50 m3 per hectare for open forests. The woodland is estimated to have an average volume of 10-50 m3 per hectare. On the other hand, the annual incremental yield from all available forest is estimated at 14.4 million m3 while the demand is 47.4 million m3 for the year 1992 (EFAP, 1994). Although precise figures are not available, it is estimated that about 24 million m3 of wood is produced annually of which some 10% is used for industrial and building purposes and the remainder for fuel wood and charcoal
There are a number of problems facing the forestry sub-sector. The forest resources have been declining both in size and quality. The high forests which used to cover 16% of the land area in the early 1950s were reduced to 3.6% in the early 1980s and further declined to 2.7% in the early 1990s. The information of MoA (1999) compiled for forest resources assessment 2000 indicated that forests available for wood supply are over 14 million hectares and those not available for wood supply are estimated to cover an area of over 20 million hectares. In general, underlining causes of deforestation are poverty, population growth, poor economic growth and the state of the environment.
The federal and regional governments of Ethiopia recognise the economic and social values of forests and support their conservation and management for sustainable use. However, there is no comprehensive federal policy that covers either land use or forest management. Proclamation No. 94/1994 that was issued to provide for the conservation, development and utilisation of forests is currently serving as the forest policy statement of the country. Despite the fact that the proclamation has been issued six years ago, it did not help much to relieve the pressure from the forests, probably due to the absence of enforcing mechanisms. A formal forest policy is lacking and the frequent restructuring of the sub-sector has led to the discontinuation of planned activities.
The Forestry sub-sector is also confronted by problems which are related to the macro-economic situations and other factors like the reorganisation of the forestry institutional systems. Over the past decades, there have been numerous restructuring of institutions related to forestry. There were separations and re-unification of the sector with agriculture several times. The natural resources sector has been at a level of ministry, vice ministry and at present a team.
Currently, the forestry sector at a federal level has a lower organisational profile in the Ministry of agriculture. Budget allocations and staff resources are often inadequate to monitor forest resources effectively and to ensure sustainable management. The trend towards decentralisation and devolution of forest management responsibilities to the local governments could not be effective due to low capacity of the sector at all levels.
The current capacity of the sector is constrained especially at the regional level due to the absence of an appropriate management structure, the inadequate allocation of budget and the high level of encroachment for expanding agricultural land and illegal settlements.
In order to abate the pace of deforestation and environmental degradation and establish a sustainable forest resource use and development, the Government of Ethiopia has planned to formulate a regional program on forest conservation and development. The program is expected to address the following development objectives:
Increase the supply of forest products on a sustainable basis, including sawn timber, fuel wood, poles, fodder, and non-timber forest products.
Increase agricultural production through reduced land degradation and increased soil fertility.
Conserve forest ecosystems, including genetic and wildlife resources; and
Improve the welfare of rural communities.