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Spotlight on Ethiopia’s tree-planting programme

Ethiopia has embarked on an ambitious tree-planting programme and planted more than 350 million trees in a day

“Climate change impacts have greatly affected Ethiopia in terms of flooding, drought and food insecurity,” said Margaret Oduk, programme coordinator of the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Liaison Office to the African Union Commission, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and Ethiopia.

“In 2017 alone, the country lost more than two million animals due to drought. Furthermore, environmental degradation—exacerbated by increased human use of land, unsustainable agricultural practices, indiscriminate grazing of animals and the collection of firewood for household energy—has contributed to reduced land cover and protection against soil erosion, which in turn is further reducing forest cover,” she noted.

Under the country’s National Green Development programme—launched in May 2019 to combat climate change and environmental degradation—Ethiopia plans to plant four billion trees on 1.5 million ha across the country: 40 trees per person.

The government has established a five-member expert group to monitor and assess the tree-planting programme. Members are drawn from four ministries, the United Nations Development Programme, as well as Ethiopia’s Environment, Forest and Climate Change Commission. The plan is to devolve responsibility to relevant institutions and local authorities for planting, monitoring progress and improving the survivability of seedlings.

Ethiopia has a huge and youthful population, with 69 per cent of its 104 million people under the age of 29. The prime minister has called for youth to engage voluntarily in their respective communities to support the campaign.


Ethiopia has pledged to restore 15 million ha of degraded forests and landscapes by 2030, as part of the “Bonn Challenge."

“This amount of land will be more than sufficient to absorb four billion trees,” commented UNEP ecosystems expert Tim Christophersen.

According to a study published in Science in July 2019, there is space for up to one trillion additional trees globally, on 0.9 billion ha of land.

“It is important to note that planting trees and using land for other purposes, such as agriculture, are not mutually exclusive. Agroforestry is the science of combining tree growing with agriculture, often resulting in higher food yields and/or better-quality soil. For example, shade-grown coffee does well,” added Christophersen.

“There are also a number of trees across Africa and elsewhere that can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere as fertiliser in the soil, and thus support agricultural productivity. It would be a mistake to assume that more trees would necessarily mean less agriculture. Sustainable agriculture and forestry practices will need to be a big part of the restoration in Ethiopia and in other countries,” he added.

UNEP is working with countries across Africa to stop deforestation and increase forest cover. This is crucial in honouring African countries’ commitments to mitigate climate change and contribute to the achievement of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030.

Led by the UN Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and partners such as Afr100, the Global Landscapes Forum and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the Decade covers terrestrial as well as coastal and marine ecosystems. A global call to action, it will draw together political support, scientific research and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration. Help us shape the decade.