Forests are one of the vital renewable natural resources that support the livelihoods of millions of people in Ethiopia. They provide a wide range of goods and ecosystem services including food, medicine, energy, shelter, clean water, land stabilization, erosion control, biodiversity protection and regulation of climate change by serving as a carbon sink.
Agriculture – both for subsistence and commercial use – employs 80% of the population and contributes in total to around 50% of the gross domestic product. In addition, the sector is responsible for about 60% of export revenues, making it a key sector for Ethiopia’s economy and society in general. Agriculture is the biggest driver of deforestation causing climatic changes with a negative impact on the whole sector as well as other sectors of Ethiopia’s economy. Unless deforestation is halted, and degraded lands are restored, the country risks losing most of its forests by 2025.
As a result, the Government of Ethiopia committed itself to the United Nations New York declaration on Forests in September 2014 to reforest 7 million hectares of land and restore 15 million hectares of forest to meet the goals of the Bonn Challenge. To achieve that objective, it is critical that the agricultural production becomes “decoupled” from deforestation. A new report by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and the UN-REDD Programme – titled “Scoping Private Sector Opportunities in Ethiopia” – looks at private sector opportunities that can help preserve and restore Ethiopia’s forests, while simultaneously focus on economic development and job creation. Finding economic activities that can recover degraded lands, mitigate climate change and provide significant revenues for the farmer is the main objective of this new report.
To stimulate economic development while achieving climate change mitigation goals, bamboo was identified as an investment option to prioritize. Bamboo, a fast-growing species adapted to Ethiopian conditions, is suited to go from a non-timber forest product to commercial exploitation perfectly in line with national strategies (the Climate-Resilient Green Economy and the second Growth and Transformation Plan). According to the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), the potential revenue and employment from bamboo for Ethiopia is immense: potentially 3 million hectares of plantations, 5 billion dollars in revenue and 1.3 million jobs. So much that the organization opened a representative office in Addis Ababa for its operations in East Africa and that a collaboration is set between China (the largest bamboo producer in the world) and Ethiopia (the largest African bamboo producer). Bamboo has a multitude of market opportunities as it can be processed into food for humans (shoots), food for animals (leaves), charcoal, furniture, flooring, mats, toothpicks, scaffolding, etc. Bamboo could bring valuable export earnings along with its much sought-after foreign currencies. It seems to be the missing link to a harmonious synergy between commercial plantations and forests. Moreover, local communities would be pleased to implement nurseries and plantations if they could operate and benefit financially from them. As almost all natural forests and woodlands in Ethiopia belong to the State, making lands available for communities with stewardship rights will give them a sense of ownership that is critical for the success of reforestation efforts.
With 102 million inhabitants, Ethiopia is the second most populated African country. Considering the current population growth rate (more than 2% per annum these last years), there could be 120 million Ethiopians by 2030. As more than 80% of household energy supply in Ethiopia is fuelwood, not finding a sustainable energy source will put unsustainable pressure on the remaining forests leading to irreversible degradation. Bamboo charcoal briquettes are ideal for cooking because they burn longer and produce less smoke or air pollution than ‘natural’ charcoal. Combined with fuel-efficient stoves, bamboo briquettes can contribute to improving health of farmers and rural communities as well as reduce the threat of further forest degradation.
Beyond bamboo, the manufacturing and implementation of fuel-efficient stoves, and the development of waste-to-energy at a bigger scale could significantly reduce the menace on forests. Given the limited public financing, these investment opportunities would benefit significantly from increased engagement from the private sector to provide additional capital and know-how. Entrepreneurs and appropriate funding to attach added value are what is now expected. Processing units, kilns and power plants are desperately needed.
By completing the report on private sector engagement, the persons responsible for the implementation of REDD+ in Ethiopia, have additional information and data available to make an informed decision about the best policies and measures to achieve the national REDD+ objectives. The options outlined in this report can stimulate economic growth, diversify the forest and agricultural sector, and thereby support the country in reaching middle-income status by 2025, by lifting farmers out of poverty.
Ecosystems Programme, Project Coordinator, UNEP Finance Initiative
Dr Tefera Mengistu Woldie
National Coordinator, Institutional Strengthening for the Forest Sector Development Program
Ministry of the Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Ethiopia