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Ibrahima Thomas, International Consultant (FAO)
Million Bekele, National Consultant (Ethiopia)
Addis Ababa, 27 March – 23 April 2002


According to FRA 200028, 71 countries, most developing, have a forest cover of less than 10 % of their land area. The open-ended International Expert Meeting on Special Needs and Requirements of Developing Low Forest Cover Countries (LFCCs) and Unique Types of Forests, held in Teheran in October 1999, agreed to prepare proposals to secure international support to sustainable forest management in LFCCs. The Netherlands approved support to targeted outputs and activities as a follow up to the “Teheran Process”. Country studies for Africa and the Near East regions were selected to outline the causes and effects of deforestation and degradation together with lessons learned and priority needs to enhance the role of planted trees. The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, as one of the country case studies selected, is detailed in this report.


Brief geographical description

Ethiopia covers a land area of around 1,120,000 square kilometers stretching between 30 – 150 N latitude and 330 – 480 E longitude. The country occupies a significant portion of the Horn of Africa and shares boundaries, to the east and southeast, with Djibouti and Somalia, to the north with Eritrea, to the south with Kenya, and to the west with Sudan.

The highlands and the lowlands present marked differences in terms of climatic conditions, vegetation and soil types, demographic characteristics, economic activities, and cultural traits. The main three physiographic regions of Ethiopia are:

Government and administration

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has 64 nations and nationalities, composed of fourteen National Regional States: twelve largely rural nations and regions and two urban regions of Addis Ababa and Harar. The two legislative houses are the Council of Peoples Representatives (CPRs) and The Federal Council. The former has a maximum of 550 members elected for five years from districts, and the later is composed of representatives of nations, nationalities and peoples. One member, at least, represents each nation nationality and people in the Federal Council for a five-year term.

Policy and legal framework

A national development strategy is to achieve rapid and sustainable economic growth by improving the productivity of the agricultural sector and by building up an agriculturally-based industrial sector, which is labour-intensive and utilizes local raw materials. The strategy focuses primarily on agricultural development to be attained through improved productivity of peasant agriculture and the establishment of large-scale commercial agriculture, particularly in the low lands.

In Ethiopia, the Federal Government ministries are responsible for preparing national development plans. Even though, an agricultural sector policy does not yet exist, the Government has designed the Agricultural Development-led Industrialization, which constitutes the framework for the Government’s five-year agriculture program. The overall objective of this programme is to close the food gap, and, hence, contribute to poverty eradication in Ethiopia.

Environmental characteristics

Geology: The present physical features of Ethiopia (mountains, the Rift Valley, plains) were mainly formed during the Tertiary period of the Cenozoic era. They result from a series of orogeny and volcanic activities that formed peneplains, faulting and deposition over the years. Igneous rocks that cover most of the Ethiopian Highlands, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks are all found in the country.

Physiography and soils: In Ethiopia, 11 major soil types cover about 87 % of the land. The cambisols that cover 13% of the country are the most represented soil type, and are followed by the lithosols (12.2%). The other soil types include the vertisols (10%), the xerosols (8.5%), the acrisols (8%), the luvisols (6%), the xelonchakes (5%), the regosols (4%) and the yermosols (3%).

Climate: The climate in Ethiopia is mainly controlled by the seasonal migration of the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) following the position of the sun relative to the earth and the associated atmospheric circulation. The dominant climatic types are the Hot Arid Climate, the Hot Semi-Arid Climate, Tropical Climate with distinct dry winter, Tropical Monsoon Rainy Climate with short dry winter, Warm Temperate Rainy Climate with dry winter, and Warm Temperate Rainy Climate without distinct dry season.

Mean annual rainfall decreases northwards and eastwards, ranging from about 2000 mm over some pocket areas in the Southwest to less than 250 mm over the Afar lowlands in the Northeast and Ogaden in the Southeast.

Biological resources: Ethiopia’s richness is due to the existence of a variety of environmental features ranging from semi-desert to mountain forests. The wide range of ecological, edaphic, and climatic conditions accounted for the rich biological diversity, both in terms of flora and fauna. There are more than 7,000 species of flowering plants recorded in Ethiopia, of which 12 percent or more are probably endemic. Natural forests and other woodlands cover 31.5 million ha and plantations around 255,000 ha. These wooded areas are sources for construction wood, fuelwood, and non-wood forest products.

Water and land resources: The country is classified into lowland and highland areas. However, because of the heterogeneity of the land resources, one distinguishes diverse agro-ecological conditions. There are 12 major geomorphologic units further divided into 70 sub-units, 18 soil associations, 6 climatic and edaphic vegetation associations, 6 rainfall patterns, 10 thermal zones, 14 length of growing period zones and 14 production regions. There are also 15 land use patterns, 48 cropping patterns, 19 livestock patterns and at least 6 farming systems. The major land use forms in Ethiopia are grasslands for grazing and browsing, lands for cultivation, and bush and shrub lands. Grazing and browsing occur in more than 50 % of the country’s total land area because it is found in cultivated areas, in woodlands and forests, and in other land use forms. Forests and woodlands cover about 7 % of Ethiopia and over 16 % of the total land area is covered by exposed rocks, salt flats and sands.

Land-use distribution according to the Ethiopian Mapping Authority (1988) can be summarized as follows:

Land-use Classification

Area (%)


Intensively cultivated


Moderately cultivated


Afro-alpine and sub-afro-alpine vegetation


High forest




Riparian wood land and shrub


Bush and shrub lands




Water bodies






Socio-economic characteristics

Population, demography: In 1999, the population was 61.7 million, 85 percent of which were rural and 15 percent, urban. The current annual population growth is 2.9%, and average population density 47 inhabitants per km2. The population is projected to increase to 129 million by the year 2030. The current life expectancy at birth is estimated at 50.7 years. The structure of the population reflects a high dependency ratio because 48.6 % of the population is within the age groups ‘0-14’ and ‘over 65’ which are economically inactive. In 1994, only 23 % of Ethiopians older than 10 years were literate, with a large discrepancy between the literacy rate in urban areas (69 %) and in rural areas (15 %). This high rate of population growth leads to increasing demands for crop and grazing lands, construction materials, fuelwood and charcoal, and is an important factor responsible for the decline of forest areas.

Poverty: An estimated 50 percent of the country’s population suffers food insecurity, or live below the poverty line, and more than 40 percent of them survive with less than one dollar per day, therefore they have severely limited purchasing power. Moreover, only 10 percent of the rural population has access to safe water. Both chronic and transitory problems of food insecurity are severe in Ethiopia arising from drought, conflict, and displacement of people. This results in low productivity, low-level development of transport systems and infrastructure.

Economic features: Ethiopia is one of the least developed countries in the world. The gross domestic product (GDP) in 1994 was US$6,108.60 million and per capita annual income of under US$120.00.

Main agricultural production systems: Ethiopia has considerable land resources for agriculture with about 73.6 million hectares potentially suitable for agricultural production to support a large population. However the country has remained unable to feed its people for many years due to inappropriate agricultural practices and climate variability.

The farming system in Ethiopia can be classified into five major categories:

Status of agricultural sector in the national economy: Crop production is estimated to contribute on average about 60 percent, livestock accounts around 27 percent and forestry and other sub-sectors around 13 percent of the total agricultural value. Small-scale farmers using low input/output rain-fed mixed farming with traditional technologies dominate the agricultural sector.

Once self-sufficient, Ethiopia has become since 1981 a net importer of grain. However, diverse agro-ecological conditions enable crops such as: cereals; spices and herbs; pulses (lentils, beans); stimulants (coffee, tea, chat, tobacco); fruits; sugarcane; fibres (cotton, sisal); vegetables (onion, tomato, carrot, cabbage); root and tuber crops (potatoes, sweet-potatoes, beets, yams) to be grown.


Forest inventory and information systems

The available information on the forest and other woody biomass vegetation cover is limited. This has been a major impediment to planning and implementing sustainable forest management. The most recent national surveys of forest and land use are those carried out by FAO in 1984 and by Cesen in 1986. The results from these two surveys are now outdated. In 1990, the State Forest Conservation and Development Department (SFCDD) carried out a desk study of forest resource base, which reported 3.5 million ha of natural forest cover. Most of these above studies indicated that the climax vegetation has disappeared in most areas in the country.

Characteristics of the forestry sector

About 42 million ha or the equivalent of 35% of the land area might have been covered with forests. However, with the inclusion of the savanna woodlands, the estimation rises to some 66 % of the country. Forest cover (16% in 1950) has declined to 3.6 % in the early 1980s. Later in 1989, the forest cover was estimated at 2.7 %. Including 5 million hectares of savanna woodlands, the total forest area was 7 %.

The forest cover is classified into:

Estimates on forest cover change range from 62,000 ha per year, 150,000-200,000 ha and 59,000 ha. Between 1973 and 1990, it was estimated that the area coverage of closed forest stands had been reduced from 2.64 % to 0.2 %. On the contrary, the heavily disturbed high forest, which was only 0.87% in 1973-1976, increased to 3.08 % in 1986-1990. The species composition and the tree density have been decreasing in almost all forested areas characterized by deformed and over aged trees. Natural regeneration is scarce due to the high impact of livestock.

The main factors of forest degradation include:

Natural forests: Ethiopia’s remaining natural forests include:

The latest estimate of the remaining area of closed high forests is 4.1 million hectares or 3.4 percent of the country.

Planted forests: Plantations are mainly of exotic tree species with Eucalyptus covering the largest area of hardwood plantations mainly for construction and fuelwood. The emphasis is on short rotation plantations and little in growing valuable indigenous trees due to their slow growth rate and low economic return. These plantations include industrial and peri-urban afforestation activities established and operated by the Government, as well as community woodlots and plantations for watershed protection.

FRA 2000 estimated a total forest plantation of 216,000 ha, however, in-country gross estimates are 255,214 ha, which comprise around 76,050 ha of industrial forest plantations and 179,164 ha of forest plantations for the production of fuelwood and poles. Of these, 79,500 ha represent plantations established by farmers and communities and 99,664 ha represent public sector plantations for fuelwood and pole production. Peri-urban plantations are created to supply urban centres with poles and fuelwood. They are mainly located around Addis Ababa and other major towns.

The annual planting rate is estimated at 17,000 ha which is 10 % of the annual deforestation rate. If this planting rate remains the same, the area of industrial plantations would be around 500,000 ha by the year 2020. The projected sustainable fuelwood supply from all forest types is 8.8 million m3 without any intervention but the projected supply would reach 21.8 million with proper management by 2014.

Trees outside forests: Trees outside forests are important sources of wood and non-wood forest products. Most household needs for fuelwood and construction timber are obtained from these trees. They are trees on roadside, trees planted in and around fields, trees around homesteads and windbreaks around agricultural fields. The total area covered by trees outside forests is not known. The MOA (1998) estimated supply of fuelwood from farm homesteads at about 80,000 tons per year based on an assumed number of five mature trees per rural household. The same source indicated that there are some 140,000 hectares of woody vegetation in patches less than 200 hectares in size that are contributing nearly 100,000 tons per year. There has been a very significant increase in on-farm planting of trees, related to the change of state policy on individual tree tenure.

Environmental values of forests

Biodiversity conservation: The flora of Ethiopia consists of between 6,500 and 7,000 species of which 12 % are considered endemic. The forests host the major portion of the flora, including about 25 % of families or close relatives of cultivated crops. Some efforts in biodiversity conservation include:

• Government-formulated policies for the sustainable use of genetic resources;

• 40 Wildlife Conservation areas comprising nine National Parks (2.3 million ha.), four wildlife Sanctuaries (1 million ha), eight wildlife Reserves and 18 Controlled Hunting Areas;

• Protected areas covering 14 % of the country and contributing significantly to in situ conservation of wild coffee in the southwestern part of the country; and

• The collection and storage of about 804 accessions of seeds of 14 tree and shrub species by the Institute of Biodiversity Conservation and Research.

Soil and water protection: Land degradation through soil erosion remains the greatest threat to sustainable land management in the country. Erosion by water alone is estimated to cause an annual loss of 1.9 billion tons of soil from the high lands. The soil conservation research project results show that the maximum soil loss on cultivated land is in the order of 300-400 tons per ha per year. In response:

• Trees and shrubs in agricultural and grazing land can increase both crop and livestock productions by reducing wind speeds and water loss;

• It has been estimated that one hectare of eroded land with 40 % slope looses as much as 150 m3 of top soil each year. Conversely, if forestry is chosen to be the best alternative form of land use, not only is the loss of such an amount of soil prevented but, also that it is not deposited in river bottoms, lakes and dams; and

• Forests and trees lessen the impact of rainfall thus allowing water to percolate instead of being lost through run off. In areas receiving an annual rainfall of 600 mm per year, the afforestation of one hectare of steep slope and eroded land (40%), allows an estimated 5,000 m3 of water to seep into the ground thus preventing the filling up of waterways and the incidence of floods.

Initiatives for sustainable forest management

Management criteria for sustainable forestry have been developed within Ethiopia’s Forest Action Program but have not been implemented. According to this programme, the remaining natural forests are primarily used for conservation, and commercial utilization as a secondary objective. For this programme, two million ha of natural forests are selected as priority for development but have not been effective. Management plans have been prepared for eight forests but only two of them have been put in place. The forests are under stocked with estimated annual incremental yield well below the optimum. The national forest program has proposed 60% of natural high forests to be designated for conservation and 40% for production purposes.

For the last two and a half decades, the public sector has been responsible for the management of forest resources. This resulted in uncontrolled deforestation of the natural forests, encroachment by the farmers and desertification. Regional bureaus have managerial responsibility for planning, utilizing and developing natural forests, woodlands and Government plantations. The preparation of management plans rests on the regional bureau of agriculture. However, no concerted management planning effort has been made except the preparation of eight management plans. The legal status of forest areas has not been established thus leading to increased encroachment and depletion of the forest resources.

Forest management practices: Poor logging practices and techniques carried out in natural forests without any control or management plan, and the narrow range of selection of tree species have all contributed to the fast depletion of forest resources in Ethiopia. The average sawlog volume per ha is 50 m3/ha of a potential 200 m3/ha. There is a great loss of energy in producing charcoal by the widely practised earth mound kiln technique that results in 50% of waste. Approximately, 6% of the gross supplies of wood are converted to charcoal.

Forest production

Wood products: Forests are the main sources of building materials in Ethiopia and this poses a substantial threat to the fragile forest ecosystems with the ever-increasing population.

Industrial roundwood: Production and consumption of primarily non-coniferous trees, is one of the lowest in the world. The production of logs has declined from 130,000 m3 in 1980 to 6,000 m3 in 1999. Current demand for industrial wood is estimated at about 400,000 m 3 per year but is expected to jump to 1.6 million cubic meters by the year 2014.

Sawnwood production averaged about 23,000 m3 per year from 1980 to 1990. The production of wood-based panels is estimated at 12,000 m3 with an average import of 1,000 m3 per annum. Veneer sheets, paper and paperboard, plywood, particleboard are also produced, but there is no external trade in wood products.

Construction wood: The annual demand for construction wood is estimated to be 2.1 million m 3, and is anticipated to reach 4.2 million m 3 by 2014.

State of supply and demand of forest products: Every year about 24 million cubic meters of wood are harvested from natural forests. Overall, 80% of this wood production is consumed as household fuel, in the form of firewood or charcoal, another 10% as building material and transmission poles, leaving the balance for other uses. The annual demand for wood production, as measured by annual extraction of wood products, exceeds the annual growth and exerts heavy pressure on the remaining forests.

Imported woods include sawn wood, veneer sheets, wood-based panels, pulp and paper products.

Fuelwood and charcoal: Most households depend almost exclusively on wood to meet their energy needs with average daily per capita consumption of fuelwood varying from 7 kg in the biomass rich regions to 0.8 kg in the arid areas. More than 50 % of all primary energy used in Ethiopia is for baking Injera, a large pancake, which is the main food in the country. This energy intensive activity accounts for more than 75% of the total energy consumed in Ethiopian households.

Important energy sources: Traditional biomass fuels such as wood, agricultural residues, charcoal and animal dungs are prevalent. The household sector accounts for about 93% of the biomass fuel consumption and there are ample signs of shortages of fuelwood in both urban and rural areas.

Natural forests and woodlands are the most important sources of woody biomass resources. An estimated 38 metric tons of fuelwood was consumed in 1995/96. However, there are huge variations in the per capita energy consumption depending on the availability of woody biomass resources or other alternative options.

Non-wood forest products (NWFPs)

The main NWFPs in Ethiopia include:

Medicinal plants: Constitute the only medicines available to a large majority of Ethiopians who depend heavily on the forests, woodlands and cultivated lands to meet as much as 75 to 90 percent of their requirements for primary health care. Medicinal plants include more than 600 plant species, which represent a little over 10 percent of Ethiopia's vascular flora.

Bamboo resources: These cover an estimated one million ha and are the sources for food, fodder, furniture and building materials. They could also be used as raw material for fibre board, pulp and energy requirements. However, the use of bamboo resources in Ethiopia is currently limited to housing construction, fencing and for the production of furniture, baskets, agricultural tools and house utensils.

Wild animal resources: Wildlife ranching and domestication, civet and ostrich farming and game hunting of large herds of big antelopes, gazelles and warthogs could be developed more for tourism. These contribute significantly to food production and household food security. However, the Catholic Orthodox religion forbids the consumption of many wild animals. Nevertheless, in some lowland areas of the country, hunting contributes to food security by providing meat for consumption and cash income.

Economic and social contribution of forestry:

The main roles for forestry in the country are the supply of wood for energy and of raw materials for wood based and construction industries. Wood provides some 78 percent of all energy consumed in the country, with an average yearly consumption estimated at 1m3 per capita for the rural households. Most households rely heavily on fuelwood from the forests to fulfill their energy requirements estimated at between 49 and 64 million m3 per year.

In the period 1982-1992, the agriculture sector accounted for 45 % of the total GDP, and over the same period, forestry accounted for about 5.5 % of the agriculture sector and 2.5 % of the total GDP (EARO, 2001). These figures, however, underestimate the total contribution of the forestry sector to the country’s economy.

In 1988-1989, forest industries in Ethiopia employed about 2.2 % of the total work force in the country and contributed 2.8 % to employment in the agricultural sector. During the 1993/94 fiscal year, the manufacturing of wood products, furniture, paper and paper products employed 6,180 people.

It is currently estimated that the forestry sector employs directly some 35,000 persons in Government and industry, and some 400,000 persons in commercial wood fuel harvesting, processing and distribution.

In terms of revenues, the wildlife sector generates cash from sport hunting, export of live animals and tourism. The revenues collected from hunting alone are estimated at US$ 530,000 per year from 1996 to 2000. On the other hand, the export of live animals has contributed to over US$235,000 during the same period.


Institutional framework of forestry

The forestry sector in Ethiopia has undergone fundamental changes as a result of:

At the regional and local levels, there are agricultural development bureaux with two departments: the Regulatory Department and the Extension Department in which experts organized in forest conservation and development teams manage forestry. Forestry currently falls under a large Ministry of Agriculture. Budget allocations and staff resources are often inadequate to monitor forest resources effectively and to ensure sustainable management.

State institutions in forestry: Since 1940, the Ministry of Agriculture has been responsible for the organization of the forestry sector, conservation, development and rational utilization of the forest resources at the Federal level. The Regional Bureaux of Agriculture are now responsible at the regional levels.

The Private Sector and Forestry: Due to the comparative long-term nature of investments in forestry, private investors are less attracted. On the other hand, more involvement is reported in harvesting, processing and marketing of forest products. The Government has developed policies that encourage and attract the private sector in the forestry sector. The Government is leasing land outside farmers’ possession to private investors who are willing to engage into activities that contribute to the improvement of the environment. So far, eight investment projects in forestry with a capital outlay of 17.29 million ETB are currently operating.

Forestry Research: In acknowledging the importance of research and the various problems encountered in the agricultural research system, in 1997 the Government enacted a proclamation establishing the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Organisation (EARO). The Forestry Research Center, which is organized under EARO, is responsible for generating appropriate technologies for the development, sustainable use and conservation of trees and forests. Among the proposed national research programmes are:

Forestry training: From 1997 to 1999 expenditure was estimated at between 3,962,000 and 16,950,000 ETB. However, the number of graduate foresters is still below what is needed to carry out the challenging responsibilities of managing the forest resources of the country. Programmes include:

Policy framework

The country has developed the following national policies that are in effect and relevant to sustainable forest management: Environmental Protection of Ethiopia, Ethiopian Forestry Action Program, Conservation Strategy of Ethiopia, Biodiversity Conservation and Development Policy and Strategy.

Proclamation No. 94/1994 provides for the conservation, development, protection and utilization of forest resources, recognizes three types of ownership of forestlands: State forests, regional forests and private forests. In addition, cutting of trees, grazing of domestic animals, bee-keeping activities and harvesting of any other forest product requires a written permit from the appropriate regional Government or Ministry.

In order to preserve the remaining natural forest, protect the environment, and the genetic pool reserve, 58 National Forest Protection Areas (NFPAs) covering an estimated area of 3.6 million ha have been selected. However, these protected NFPAs suffer from heavy pressure from increasing demands for new agricultural lands and fuelwood. It is prohibited to cut products or perform activities in NFPAs.

Legal, customary and regulatory instruments

Ethiopia has made significant achievements in terms of elaboration of a framework to address issues related to deforestation and land degradation. The Environmental Protection Authority has developed a National Action Plan to Combat Desertification with priority set for specific areas in 40 administrative zones of the country. Financial and technical assistance from the Office to Combat Desertification and Drought (UNSO), IGAD and the CCD Secretariat supported the formulation of this plan that will be implemented by the various relevant federal and regional executive organs.

Planning framework

Central planning mechanisms: Recent changes in the policy and institutional framework for forestry emphasized reducing the role of Governments in productive activities, stressing decentralisation in forest management and administration with special attention given to participatory approaches. However, the Federal Government ministries are still responsible for policy issues, for preparing plans and budgets, and conducting studies and research. They also ensure enforcement of laws, regulations and directives of the Government, and provide for technical assistance.

Decentralized planning: The Regional agricultural bureaus are responsible for the preparation of plans and budgets for their respective regions. The regional states have power to raise their own revenues and plan their own development activities following the policies of the federal Government. The decentralization and devolution continue to the lowest decentralized level of formal state structure within the regions.

International conventions

The Government is committed to UN International Conventions and Agreements.

External assistance

Multilateral international support: Financial cooperation through investments and donations of organizations such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the World Bank were undertaken.

Bilateral support: Cooperative programmes in these sectors are involved with Germany (GTZ), Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and Italy.


Root causes

Land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas leads to desertification, which results from climatic variations and human activities (deforestation, overgrazing, inadequate agricultural practices leading to soil erosion and deterioration) due to rapidly increasing population. Environmental degradation and deforestation have been taking place for hundreds of years.

Land tenure and user rights: Grazing and browsing occur over more than 50 % of the country’s land area. This major land use form puts a heavy pressure on forests and woodlands vegetative cover, which, with the complexity of topography, constitutes the biggest threat to the environment in Ethiopia.

Pasturelands are not owned by individuals or by specific groups of people and this leads to the ‘tragedy of the commons’: grazing lands are exploited well above their carrying capacity.

Water tenure and use rights: Given the lack of information concerning the occurrence of ground water, it has not been possible to address the water tenure and user rights issues nor to link water scarcity in some parts of Ethiopia to deforestation and land degradation. However, insecurity of access to these rights affects how rural populations manage natural resources. Without security, there is a tendancy to over-exploit now, forgoing tomorrow.

Incentives/constraints in agricultural production: Although agriculture (crop production, animal husbandry, livestock production, forestry and fishery) supports 85 % of the population, until recently there has been very limited investment into this vital sector. Despite the considerable land resources availability, the Ethiopian agriculture depends largely on low input/output rain-fed mixed farming and is characterized by the absence of integrated diseases and pest control, and the utilization of primitive varieties of crops and farm technologies.

Poverty: Poverty affects more than half of the inhabitants of Ethiopia and this situation is probably responsible of many activities contributing to deforestation and land degradation in the country. The Government of Ethiopia has set the alleviation of poverty as a national priority and has developed a national poverty eradication strategy.

Economic situation and consumption patterns: Most Ethiopians in rural areas rely on forest resource products for their daily subsistence to face the chronic food insecurity that exists in many parts of the country. These increasing demands due to poor performances of traditional agriculture practices, lack of reliable transport system, drought, and frequent displacement of people because of conflicts contribute to deforestation and land degradation.

Direct causes

Natural causes: Climatic factors such as high temperatures and prolonged rainfall deficit lead to drought periods and subsequent losses of vegetative cover in fragile environments. Other natural factors such as altitude, wind, topography, and soil type that determines the characteristics of forests can also be direct causes for deforestation and land degradation in Ethiopia.

Causes linked to human activity: Human activities have induced environmental degradation and deforestation for centuries mainly through:


The two most important effects of deforestation and forest degradation are the loss of productive forest lands and the revenues following the loss of wood and non-wood forest products. Deforestation and land degradation have immediate consequences in Ethiopia where they exacerbate poverty, leading to further desertification.

Loss of land productivity: In Ethiopia, farmers have practised shifting cultivation as the main traditional farming system whenever there was a decline in the fertility of their farmlands. This farming system exposes the soil to erosion and wind and is causing large losses in some of the NFPAs that are not protected because these forests are not yet gazetted.

Resource base degradation and decline: What was once an immense natural forest resource has been depleted mainly by the human factor at an alarming rate of 150,000 - 200,000 ha/year. This resource base degradation and decline goes along with losses of species diversity, reduction and/or decline of grazing lands, and intensification of erosion problems. Moreover, this decline of the resource bases exacerbates poverty and, in turn, forces people to put more pressure on the already fragile remaining patches of natural forest vegetation, contributing over the long run to desertification.


Lessons learned

The lessons learned include:

Gaps in knowledge

There are acknowledged technical deficiencies in:

Extent and impacts of desertification: Ethiopia is experiencing soil erosion and fertility loss due to intensive cultivation on steep slopes and the expansion of cultivation onto fragile lands. Accelerated desertification is recognized as the main cause of food insecurity. It has been estimated that 27 million ha of agriculturally productive land are eroded and an addition of about 14 million ha of the land seriously eroded, and another two million ha completely eroded to support any production. The country has limited capacity to monitor ecological degradation and provide reliable information on the process and dynamics of resource degradation that lead to desertification.

The arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas of Ethiopia account for about 70 percent of the total landmass and 46 percent of the total arable land. Information regarding the state of the natural resources and the socio-economic situation specific to the arid areas of Ethiopia is limited.

The Government has been making quite significant budgetary allocations for environmental protection out of which most went into the prevention of land degradation. There is still lack of coordinating and integrating institutions so that the National Action Plan to combat desertification will be internalized and projects and activities will be taken into account in the five years planning exercise of the various relevant federal, regional and zonal level executive organs.

Capturing farmers' experience, technical and managerial skills: State directed approaches for forest conservation and development have often undermined the capacity of the communities to manage and conserve their forest resources. As a result, traditional management methods and rules have been eroded. There are many examples concerning the use of indigenous technological knowledge much of which has never been documented and is being forgotten, lost or replaced by modern technology. Such methods include ones to control erosion, traditional medicine and traditional conservation practices such as inter-cropping, mixed cropping.

Initiating full participation and partnership in rural community development: In Ethiopia, the Government’s approach for forestry development was not people centred but was largely based on the command system with little attention to local community involvement. This approach failed to achieve sustainable forest management because it did not address the socio-economical constraints and issues related to the conservation and management of forests. The attitude of the Government has started to change towards participatory approaches in the management of forest and other natural resources.

Establishing networks of decentralized statistical planning databases: Data collection and analysis constitutes a major bottleneck for the establishment of reliable statistical planning databases in Ethiopia. Furthermore, weak institutional linkages through networking by electronic communication limit the dissemination of relevant information to many potential users. There is no mechanism in place for bringing together available information because there is no institutional set-up that organizes databases.



The degradation of the environment in Ethiopia due to the destruction of forest resources and the subsequent loss of ecosystems are the biggest threats to the development of the forestry sector. It is therefore urgent to:

The importance of wood and non-wood forest products for the economy of rural households should be highlighted and integrated in all food security programs. Examples include the promotion of small forest product enterprises through small credit loans, trade of bamboo baskets in urban areas or of Arabic gum and incense, carving and traditional medicine activities. These rural non-farm activities can provide employment, income, and subsistence goods to the majority of the people in the country.

Recommended actions

Development choices and issues: To promote the use of trees outside forests, it is recommended to:

Technical initiatives: In recognition of the value of future forest and rangeland management it is recommended to:

Administrative and legislative aspects

It is recommended to:

Cross cutting issues

It is recommended that:

28 Forest Resources Assessment.

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