WEEMA’s Ethiopian team made global history this week.
Team members and community members in the Tembaro woreda planted hundreds of trees on Monday – part of a record shattering 353 million tree seedlings planted across the country in just 12 hours. This week’s effort crushed the previous world record for trees planted in a single day: 50 million trees were planted in India in 2016.
And Ethiopia is just getting started. The country’s Green Legacy campaign aims to plant 4 billion trees this year in an effort to protect soil conditions and help mitigate climate change.
The issue is an urgent one. Rapid population growth, livestock grazing and widespread use of firewood for cooking have contributed to vast losses in forestland across the country in recent decades. Research from a few years ago showed that less than 4 percent of Ethiopia’s land was covered with forest compared to 35 percent just over a century ago.
For arid, agriculture-dependent regions like Tembaro, where WEEMA works, the issue is especially important. Forests play a key role in protecting healthy soil that farmers rely on for nutrients. Trees also keep water in the soil instead of being washed away during rainstorms, which are becoming more intense due to climate change. Tree planting also helps mitigate climate change since they absorb carbon dioxide, which is heating the atmosphere.
Monday’s tree planting effort in Farsuma, one of the hottest areas of Tembaro, was one of more than 1,000 tree planting sites across the country. WEEMA staff and dozens of community members, many of them school children, planted nearly 500 trees, many of them indigenous dryland acacia tree seedlings. A total of 450,000 trees were planted in Tembaro.
The effort garnered worldwide praise.
“Ethiopia is one of only a few countries that are very invested in getting trees back in the landscape,” Fred Stolle, deputy director of the nonprofit World Resources Institute, told Fast Company. “They’ve gotten to a very bad place. And so they really see the value.”
Of course, planting trees isn’t a final solution. The local government has set up a community system for watering and protecting the seedlings now that they are in the ground. Nurturing the trees for the next couple of years is especially critical. This summer’s planting was purposely timed to coincide with Ethiopia’s rainy season, which runs from May to October.