Conference name, dates, place

International Conference on Contemporary Development Issues in Ethiopia, August 16-18, 2001, Kalamazoo, Michigan

Document Type


Presentation Date



One of the major challenges facing Ethiopia in its strive for development is environmental degradation, which is manifested in the form of land and water resources degradation as well as loss of biodiversity. Land degradation, in turn, is expressed in terms of soil erosion and loss of soil fertility. Deforestation/devegetation has been held as one of the major factors contributing to land degradation through exposing the soil for various agents of erosion. Ethiopia, with high-intensity rainstorms and extensive steep slopes, is highly susceptible to soil erosion, especially in the highlands. The organic content of soils is often low due to the widespread use of dung and crop residues for energy. Land degradation exerts heavy impacts on agricultural productivity and production. For instance, in 1990 alone, reduced soil depth, caused by erosion, resulted in a loss in grain production of 57,000 (at 3.5 mm soil loss) - 128,000 tons (at 8 mm soil depth). It has been estimated that the grain production lost due to land degradation in 1990 would have been sufficient to feed more than four million people. The availability of land suitable for agriculture is shrinking. At the same time, the amount of land required to feed the growing population is steadily increasing. With agricultural productivity increases lagging behind population growth rates, the gap between the availability and the demand for agricultural land continues to grow. This results in severe land-use conflicts between crop farming, animal grazing and forestry. National high forests and plantations are encroached upon and cleared for cultivation or grazing by local people. State and community forest interests collide with local grazing interests on hillside land, and grazing and fuelwood / charcoal interests confront each other in the woodlands and bushlands. Forestry can play a role in reducing land pressure and land degradation. It is important to note, however, that forestry alone will not be able to solve the problem. Even if the management of existing forest resources is improved and new trees and forests are established, this may well prove futile if the need for crop and grazing land continues to grow due to high population growth rates. Using the land for forestry to improve soil fertility or to rehabilitate and conserve the environment will be viewed as secondary to using the land for cropping and grazing to meet immediate needs of survival. Hence, attempts to alleviate land degradation are critically dependent on efforts to deal with the three main underlying causes of land degradation, namely population growth, low agricultural productivity and high dependence on fuelwood, dung and crop residue as sources of household energy. Considering the magnitude of the land 2 degradation problem, the conservation programs implemented so far are inadequate. The policy, institutional, planning and technical constraints that have been considered responsible for the inadequacy of past conservation efforts are presented. Any future initiatives aiming at overcoming the escalating land degradation problem in Ethiopia should first address these constraints realistically. There are no universal formulae or solutions to the constraints that can work across the board. Solutions should be locality specific and closely tied up with the socio-economic setup of the communities. In this regard, forestry can play a significant role in either preventing or arresting land degradation by avoiding or reducing soil erosion through reduced surface runoff and maintenance of organic matter and soil fertility. It can help in not only addressing off-farm and on-farm dimensions of soil erosion but also in maintaining the fertility of the soil thereby contributing to the alleviation of land degradation and the destruction of natural resources. The various means by which forestry can be used to address problems of land degradation are discussed as outlined in the Ethiopian Forestry Action Program.

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Economics Commons