To double the forest industry's share of gross domestic product and create over half a million jobs, we need to ensure Ethiopia's forests are maintained, nurtured and restored, write Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, founder and CEO of SoleRebels footwear, Kitty van der Heijden, director of WRI Africa and WRI Europe, and Sebsebe Demissew (Prof), professor at Addis Abeba University.
Ethiopia under the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) faces a bright future. The Prime Minister's 'New Horizon of Hope' dashboard puts forward ambitious actions to advance democracy and the rule of law, create jobs, increase competitiveness, invest in human capital and boost the performance of the financial, logistics and electricity sectors.
Key action areas include an effort to increase agricultural production and agro-processing to create jobs, boost export earnings and ensure national food security.
It is our heartfelt belief that Ethiopia's long-term food security, as well as its agricultural growth, will ultimately depend on the wise stewardship of the country's remarkable natural resources and biodiversity - its forests, woodlands, grasslands, wetlands and rivers. Ecosystem protection and restoration does not impede economic growth and the growing well-being of Ethiopia's people but are rather an essential prerequisite for it.
Food production will not match Ethiopia's growing calorie needs if cultivation is to be carried out on depleted soils or where water is scarce. The forest industry is responsible for as much as four percent of the country's GDP, while trees are also essential to preserving Ethiopia's rich biodiversity, to maintaining a stable climate and to enhancing the soil moisture content that is essential for food production.
To double the forest industry's share of GDP to eight percent, that is from 2.3 billion dollars in 2015 to 8.3 billion dollars in 2020, and create more than 630,000 jobs, we need to ensure Ethiopia's forests are maintained, nurtured and restored.
The livelihoods of rural people in Ethiopia are highly sensitive to climate. Drought remains one of the key drivers of food insecurity in the country. Food insecurity is an enduring, critical challenge in Ethiopia and chronic malnutrition costs the country approximately 16.5pc of its GDP each year. Since 1950, Ethiopia experienced more than 12 drought-induced food security crises. Food and land use productivity will determine whether Ethiopia can feed a population projected to grow to nearly 200 million by 2050.
Over two-thirds of the country's jobs are in the agricultural sector, such that climate resilient agriculture will be essential to increasing agricultural yields as well as to generating sufficient jobs for Ethiopia's young, talented and growing population.
Better care for Ethiopia's natural environment, coupled with greater attention to predicting and forestalling the impacts of a changing climate, are two critical strategies for ensuring the long-term resilience of Ethiopia's agricultural productivity, supply chains and the employment and well-being of the many millions of Ethiopians who derive their livelihoods from the agricultural sector.
The Food & Land Use Coalition [of which the authors of this article are representatives] focuses in Ethiopia on identifying ways in which the country can meet its agriculture, poverty alleviation and nutrition goals while simultaneously improving the resilience of its farming systems and forest management practices.
Critical to this approach is the role of comprehensive land use mapping and spatial planning at local and national levels. Only with the help of inclusive and rigorously enforced spatial plans is it possible to adjudicate fairly between different competing interests and claims on the land, including for urbanisation, industry, water, agriculture, conservation and restoration.
More sustainable value chains and market development are also vitally important, whether for the agricultural commodities being prioritised to transform smallholder farming or for other commodities such as coffee and leather. Over recent years, systematic piloting of contract farming arrangements has strengthened Ethiopia's malt barley value chain, resulting in increased farm income, a more reliable domestic supply that saves foreign exchange and new international investments to expand malt processing.
With support from Partnership for Forests, farmers and their cooperatives in Ethiopia's Kaffa, Sheka, Bench Majji, Illubabor and Bale are not only strengthening their value chains and building a new brand of specialty forest coffee. They are also seeking to set up forest cover and coffee traceability monitoring systems that can ensure consumers of the quality of the land use and forest conservation practices in the sourcing area.
We envisage a future in Ethiopia, and in the world at large, in which rural communities have been revitalised by these kinds of new value chains, as well as by a greater commitment to sustainable farming practices. These practices increase yields on existing land, improve farmers' incomes, create jobs for unemployed youth and take pressure off ecosystems such as natural forests.
Prime Minister Abiy's proposed prevention-oriented national health plan can be closely aligned with coordinated efforts to boost farmers' productivity, increase food safety, expand access to balanced nutrition and establish dietary guidelines. Such an alignment could help avoid a rapid rise of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, often witnessed in other countries with rapidly growing cities, increased agro-processing and changing diets.
Ethiopia has been a global leader on climate change, forest protection, forest restoration and sustainable development for many years. Its Climate Resilient Green Economy strategy and its track record on forest restoration are an inspiration to the world and have rightfully won Ethiopia many accolades including the gold award in the prestigious Future Policy Award in 2017.
We now need to capitalise on these policies to deliver results on the ground where it matters most. The Prime Minister is in a strong position to lead a national and global effort that catalyzes these systemic shifts to build a new food and land use economy capable of enhancing people's health, dignity and livelihoods through ensuring more and better jobs, greater economic growth, stronger social and environmental resilience and the maintenance of vital ecosystem health and functions.
Growth and environmental sustainability are not at odds with each other but instead depend on each other. It is not an either-or equation. Ethiopia needs, and deserves, an and-and solution. A sustainable food and land use system would be a powerful bedrock of a more positive future for Ethiopia and the world - an idea that we can all get behind.