Ethiopia: 'A growing person cannot cut down a tree'

Originally published
Farming communities combine traditional cultural values with environmentally friendly practice to revive the once densely forested district of Wemera, Oromia region, western Ethiopia.
Christian Aid partner Hundee works with local people whose main income earner is the felling and sale of trees. Through education and positive action Hundee is addressing Ethiopia's devastating problem of land degradation, a major cause of the country's current and critical food shortages.

Seedling nurseries are set up to help farmers practise conservation and afforestation while they earn their living. Seedlings are sold or given to farmers to plant and when they fell trees for sale they must plant more. Then the nurseries are phased out into small private nurseries to enable farmers to continue the enterprise independently, while Hundee continues to help others.

Indigenous trees are encouraged for soil conservation, minimal water consumption and their hospitality to other plants. Local traditions help Hundee in their work. When a person dies in Oromia it is customary to plant a tree. There is also a saying 'a growing person cannot cut down a tree'.

Bercele Bayisa, from the village of Telecho, is 30 years old. He and his wife are waiting to have children until they can give them a better future. Bercele used to listen to the village elders recalling the days when Wemera was thickly forested and full of wild animals. 'Now gulleys and exposed tree roots are everywhere. Over-population caused people to come to this once fertile land and clear it to plant crops. Now it is infertile they resort to chopping wood to sell as firewood.'

Bercele had a vision to revive the land for his children so he set up a club to educate people about conservation. Hundee gave them seedlings to set up a nursery, and specific training to help them increase their impact. 'Hundee' means 'roots' so they named the club 'Deme Coudina' - 'Growing Branch'.

Bercele's committment makes his vision of a better future for his children believable. 'With or without the valuable help we receive from Hundee we will continue to protect our environment,' he said.