The Ethiopian government has a big dream: restoring 22 million hectares of degraded lands and forests by 2030. By doing so, the country aims not only to increase tree cover and restore degraded forests, but also to significantly enhance the forestry sector’s contribution to agricultural production systems, water and energy; to improve food and nutritional security; and to create more opportunities for employment and household income. It is a bold and laudable pledge, made as part of the 2011 Bonn Challenge and the 2014 New York Climate Summit’s goal of restoring 350 million of hectares worldwide by 2030. But what’s the best way to make it a reality?
With some 80% of Ethiopians living in rural areas, one approach is to pour resources into forest protection, rehabilitation and conservation by enlisting smallholder farmer labor for the cause mainly through food or cash for work programs. Until now, that has been the predominant method of action of projects supported by development partners. Meanwhile, the government’s approach has been to increase awareness of smallholders on the need to responsibly manage land and other natural resources and systematically mobilize these rural communities to provide free labor for landscape restoration tasks through annual soil and water conservation work and tree planting campaigns.
But either way, restoration must also create socio-economic incentive for this massive population that depends on these landscapes for livelihoods. There is a growing recognition that communities should be able to reap more economic benefits and have better control over the land they are restoring – both within restoration processes, and in general after the land has been restored.