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Updated On: Sunday, November 19 2017

FAO and Sustainable Forestry in Ethiopia

Content by: South-South News

1 November 2017, New York, USA | South-South News — The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said the unprecedented influx of refugees from South Sudan into Ethiopia has increased pressure on the local environment as the demand for wood-fuel is leading to a significant increase forest degradation and deforestation around refugee camps.

Facing civil war, drought and famine, more than a million and a half South Sudanese have sought refuge across the borders in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan. Several hundred thousand people have come to Gambella in western Ethiopia, leading to a doubling of the region’s population in just a few years.

Tensions are rising between the refugees and host communities. When displacement camps are created, it is often in the belief that they will be temporary. In reality, the average age of such camps in Africa is more than 20 years.

Buk Liy Kang came from South Sudan three years ago with her six children. They live in one of seven camps set up in Gambella to house the wave of refugees. Her family receives food. But, in order to cook and boil water, she must venture out of the camp and gather firewood, a trek that has grown longer and more dangerous as the trees in nearby forests have been cut down for fuel. Buk said, “I usually come back from the forest after two, two and half hours, and I get so tired. After resting for a short while, I arrange my firewood for home use and for sale so that I can get a little money for other things or to change the type of stew we eat.”

Buk’s journey to collect firewood is not only exhausting, but treacherous. Her path passes through the refugee camp and close to communities of other ethnic groups, and across the habitats of animal predators. “My daughter cannot go to the forest for firewood. I go to the forest because I know better the insecurity in the forest,” she added.

For the foreseeable future, refugee families like Buk’s will continue to rely on wood as their main source of energy. But without sustainable practices, the huge demand will further degrade the nearby forests, significantly worsening living conditions for all peoples in the region. Amadou Allahoury Diallo, FAO’s Representative in Ethiopia, said, “If action is not taken, it will destroy the environment and the degradation will be very quick. So that’s why FAO Ethiopia with the Government of Ethiopia, and UNHCR, with support from donors; we are trying to face the situation.”

An FAO project in the Gambella region is working to support the energy needs of the large refugee community, in order to reduce the negative impacts on local forest resources and alleviate the pressure on the host population.

Arturo Gianvenuti, an FAO Forestry Officer, said, “The growing number of displaced people in this region and the associated wood-fuel demand for cooking is causing a significant increase in forest degradation and deforestation around the refugee camps. It is therefore crucially important that we develop a coherent strategy that enables the most vulnerable people to have access to energy and clean and efficient technologies, while fostering good practices to reduce wood-fuel demand and environmental degradation.”

Together with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), FAO is monitoring the amount of wood-fuel produced, collected and consumed. Using satellite imagery and a national forest inventory, they are supporting the development of sustainable forest resource management together with Ethiopian forest experts.

Displacement camps are also starting to re-forest degraded areas, by establishing multipurpose tree plantations to help meet energy needs and reduce environmental degradation. The added value for the refugees and host communities is that such activities also create opportunities for them to generate income. Eva Müller, Director, from the FAO Forestry Policy and Resources Division, said, “Once a large number displaced people have been installed in an area, it is very difficult to balance the wood demand with the local supply. And therefore, it is critically important to start the supply planning at the very early stages of displacement.”

FAO said developing sustainable forest management plans in crisis-affected areas offers far-reaching benefits for the environment and for the local populations, who will have greater personal, economic, and food security from the forests; while replanting will help mitigate the effects of climate change.

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