Addis Ababa — Yeshi Tadesse, a mother of six, seems an unlikely proponent of family planning as a solution to climate change. But the Ethiopian villager in her 30s speaks eloquently of the linkages between the two issues.
Tadesse has witnessed the forests she grew up with being cleared to make room for more agricultural land to feed hungry mouths, leading to soil erosion and environmental degradation.
"I currently have half a hectare of land, which I shall pass on to my six kids - but unless I get good yields as well as control my family size, my children will have to inherit much more hardship," she said.
In her lifetime, she has also observed shifts in the four seasons. Droughts that used to be rare now affect her community periodically, and the rainy season eats into harvest time, spoiling crops and leaving people destitute, she said.
In response, Tadesse is participating in a project run by LEM Ethiopia, one of a consortium of 47 local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) known as PHE, which takes a holistic approach to development. Participating groups aim to tackle challenges of health, population growth and the environment together, to improve people's livelihoods and well-being.
Tadesse uses contraception to keep the size of her family in check at a time when dwindling farm productivity makes providing enough food for a large number of children a challenge.
The PHE consortium believes that with the number of Ethiopia's people nearing 90 million - 45 percent of them under the age of 15 - and 1.2 million joining the national workforce each year, a growing population is one thing the country cannot afford to neglect if it is to meet its green ambitions.
NATIONAL CONTRACEPTION TARGET
PHE Executive Director NegashTeklu noted that Ethiopia's population is increasing by 2.6 percent each year, with an average fertility rate of 4.8 children per family.
In 2011, the prevalence of contraceptive use in Ethiopia was 28.6 percent of the population, which is still a low figure, despite almost doubling since 2005.
Ethiopia's Climate Resilient Green Economy Strategy envisions the country achieving zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, and is based on four components: forestry, energy, agriculture and industry.
The strategy foresees that controlled population growth will result in less division of arable land, curbing land degradation and deforestation. At the same time, it will be possible to provide enough employment and to meet the energy needs of most Ethiopians.
The national five-year Growth and Transformation Plan, which supplements the green economy strategy and runs through to 2015, includes a target of increasing contraceptive prevalence to 65 percent. It also promises to enforce the legal age of marriage - 18 years old - to prevent early marriage and pregnancies.
"Ethiopia doesn't have an option of the 'one child policy' like China, but rather (should follow) a rights-based family planning strategy," PHE's Teklu said. His organisation is promoting such an approach in some 40 woreda (district) pilot sites around the country, with a potential reach of millions of people, he added.
PHE's member NGOs are working with relevant government ministries in the areas of health, agriculture, social welfare and the environment. The work is being funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).
Tadesse's household is one of 600 located in Dire Dayu village in the highlands of Central Ethiopia, an area with a high population density thanks to its abundant water resources, crop-friendly climate and fertile soils.
Here, LEM Ethiopia provides reproductive health assistance, including contraceptive pills and condoms, alongside fuel-efficient cooking stoves, personal hygiene classes, high-yielding seed varieties and help for local people to make organic compost.
Tamirat Selamu, a natural resource manager at LEM Ethiopia, said that as well as offering family planning education, the programme enables local people to grow more lucrative crops like apples, which are flood-resistant and help conserve soil fertility.
LEM also hands out seeds to grow cattle fodder, as well as trees as part of a reforestation effort.
The programme is not without its critics, however - especially when it comes to the use of the much-maligned eucalyptus tree as a means of replanting forests and earning extra income.
Brought to Ethiopia more than a century ago from Australia by Emperor Menelik to combat the drought that was blighting Ethiopia at the time, the eucalyptus has been accused of leeching nutrients from the soil and leaving other vegetation short of water. Fifteen different varieties are currently grown in the Horn of Africa nation.
Selamu said the downsides of eucalyptus have been exaggerated, and there is no other plant like it in the country that brings multiple benefits for farmers.
"Eucalyptus trees are known for being drought-resistant, they rehabilitate highly degraded land, and are easy to use for fuel, perfume, medicinal purposes and construction," he said. Local indigenous trees tend to grow slowly, and so aren't suitable for the urgent problems a community might face, he added.
Ethiopia's Growth and Transformation Plan is in line with the sustainable development efforts of NGOs in the PHE consortium. It aims to distribute 9 million energy saving stoves by 2015, for example, and increase the area of land being rehabilitated to 10.2 million hectares. Another key goal is to cut the number of people receiving social welfare under a national safety net programme from 7.8 million to 1.3 million.
E.G. Woldegebriel is a journalist based in Addis Ababa with an interest in environmental issues.