Drivers of defforestation and forest degradation in Ethiopia
The forest resources of Ethiopia play critical roles in providing valuable ecological and economic resources for the country’s overall development, and in particular rural population in forest regions which are heavily dependent on these resources for their livelihoods. Managing forests sustainably and equitably will be essential for maintaining the ecological integrity, maintaining or enhancing freshwater supplies, protecting biodiversity and improving rural livelihoods. Nevertheless, Ethiopia's remaining forest resources are under threat, inter alia, from agricultural expansion and unsustainable fuel wood collection, inadequacy of legal and regulatory frameworks coupled with their poor implementation, institutional instability of the forest sector and poor capacity, all these compounded with economic, cultural and demographic factors.
Ethiopia has been losing about 92,000 ha (0.54%) of forest annually between 2000 and 2013 (Ethiopia's FRL, 2016). It has historically lost most of its forest cover in the north and central areas from various forces, and these areas now require large scale restoration. Recent deforestation occurs mainly in the remaining Moist Afromontane Forest in the southwest and southeast, and the Dry Forest areas in western lowlands (Combretum-Terminalia woodlands) (Figure 2), and must be priority areas for intervention. On the other hand, Ethiopia has been active in implementing Participatory Forest Management (PFM) for conservation of its natural forests, and forest restoration through watershed development activities (tree planting and area closure on degraded lands) over the past decades. Since the 1970s, Ethiopia has also been implementing large scale plantation programs aimed at meeting the ever increasing demand for industrial wood and other forest products. The current area estimate for plantations is at 972,000 ha including commercial plantations, small holder eucalypt woodlots and community forests.
Despite that effort, the rate of afforestation (forest gain) has been about 19,000 ha annually between 2000 and 2013, about a-fifth of annual forest loss The forest gain mainly observed in the Dry Afromontane areas has likely been a result of area closure activities (forest restoration) in central and northern highlands and growing of eucalyptus woodlots by small holder farmers (Figure). Consequently, the net deforestation has been positive by about 72,000 ha annually over the analysis period. The NRS thus broadly targets to intensify efforts of both protecting the existing natural forest resources while also increasing investments on forest restoration.
Deforestation and forest degradation are caused by both direct and underlying factors. Direct drivers of deforestation are (1) small scale agricultural expansion, (2) large scale agricultural investment, (3) forest fire and (4) infrastructure development (e.g., roads providing access to agricultural settlers). Forest degradation is caused by (1) increased wood extraction for fire wood, charcoal and construction, (3) livestock grazing and (3) in some places traditional coffee farming gradually degraded forests into coffee agroforestry. The agents of deforestation are thus, smallholder farmers, immigrants, investors, illegal loggers, charcoal producers, local communities, pastoralists, and farmers.

Fig. National forest area change detection 2000-2013 by biome

The indirect drivers of deforestation and forest degradation are:

  • Low profile of the forest sector due to low level of national awareness on significance of forestry for sustainable  national development,
  • Absence of land use planning
  • Inadequacy of forest laws and poor implementation associated with poor institutional capacity and low level of awareness of the justice system on forest resources,
  • Institutional instability and low capacity of forestry and related institutions
  • Poor inter-setoral coordination and resulting policy disharmony among sectors,
  • Unclear tenure/ forest user rights (including carbon rights),
  • Inadequate incentives to various interested actors from forest management and unclear benefit sharing scheme and poor participation of local communities and the private setcor on SFM
  • Population growth coupled with poverty

Due to pressure from these factors, the forestry sector is the second largest contributors (37%) of the national GHG emissions in the country (CRGE Strategy, 2011) after the agriculture sector. Under the BAU scenario, enhanced pressure on forests will lead to an increased rate of deforestation and forest degradation, which will ultimately deplete the natural resource base negatively affecting the performance of the economy in the long term. The NRS is designed to address these drivers  and the its implementation should be able to bring about positive attitude on all actors at all levels, large scale investments and resulting climate change impacts and other environmental benefits.

Direct causes of forest-based emissions in Ethiopia

Table 1 below summarizes the drivers and agents of deforestation and forest degradation in Ethiopia, which are described in details in the subsequent section.

Table 1: Drivers  and agents of deforestation and forest degradation and constraints on forest restoration in Ethiopia

Drivers Type of Drivers Agents
Direct Small-scale agricultural conversion Small-holder farmers, new settlers
Large-scale agricultural conversion (investment) Implementing institution/Investors
Increased wood extraction for fuel and construction Illegal loggers, local community
Livestock grazing Pastoralists, farmers
Indirect (Underlying) Low profile of the forestry sector due to low level of national awareness on the importance of  forestry to sustainable development Government/policy makers
Inadequacy of the forestry legal framework and weak law enforcement Implementing institution

Lack of long term finance and human resources to support the effective implementation of forest sector plans, policies and laws


Government policy makers /implementing institutions

Limited governance and monitoring capacities of institutions in the forest sector


Implementing institutions
Unclear tenure/ forest user rights (including carbon rights) Policy makers/Implementing institution

Low levels of stakeholder participation and involvement in the forest sector


Policy makers/Implementing institution
Absence of clear benefit sharing mechanisms Policy makers/Implementing institution
Lack of  adequate incentives for private sector to invest in forestry Policy makers/Implementing institution, the private sector
Population growth coupled with rural poverty increasing dependence on forest resources Overall-economy
Absence of Land Use Planning Policy makers/Implementing institution
PFM related implementation gaps Implementing institution
Overlapping  institutional  mandates and inappropriate delegation of mandate Implementing institution
A/R and Restoration challenges

Lack of incentives for involving  private investments in forestry development


Policy makers/Private investors
Absence of out grower schemes for small holder plantations Policy makers/Implementing institution
Low seedling survival and poor forest establishment due to technical and management problems Implementing institution/Research institutions
In appropriate species-site matching Implementing institution/Research institutions
Absence of land use plans/laws for land development according its capability and national needs  limiting availability of  for A/R Policy makers
Lack of technical backstopping from national to lower level actors Implementing institution/Research institutions
Lack of coordination among relevant stakeholders Implementing institution

Direct causes of deforestation

Small scale and large scale agricultural activities were identified as major drivers of deforestation and forest degradation. The natural growth of population in the forest areas coupled with the continued spontaneous in-migration into those areas has resulted in increased rate of deforestation due to expansion of small-scale agriculture. Large-scale agricultural investment (such as coffee and tea plantations, irrigated farming, cotton, sugar cane and oil crop production, etc.) sometimes include conversion of extensive natural high forests and woodlands into non-forest land. While small scale agricultural expansion distributed across all forest regions and the large-scale agricultural investment schemes– both private and state owned are becoming increasingly important mainly in Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz, Afar and to a limited extent also in SNNP and Oromia. Further, traditional shifting cultivation in the western lowlands causes significant deforestation through the application of fires to clear lands.

Forest fires caused by human activity results in destruction of woodlands and high forests of the country. These are rather common in the lowlands of Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz, Tigray, Afar, Somali and SNNP regions. Infrastructure development (particularly road network) can directly lead to forest clearance as it opens up and facilitates access to agents which may impact on forest resources. However, the indirect effect of road development on deforestation can become significant by providing access to illegal farm settlers. Mining and dam construction are increasingly having impact on forest loss. Although site specific, coffee and khat (a stimulant shrub with importance in generating significant cash income) growing practices also lead to forest degradation.

Direct causes of forest degradation
The dependence on biomass energy is high across all regions and this has a huge pressure on the native forests. Increased extraction of wood for fuel (charcoal making, branches, leaves and twigs for firewood) are the main causes of forest degradation in the country. Traditional charcoal production is a key driver of forest degradation in the dry forest areas, and its impact on the forest resource is significant as it requires about six times the amount of wood to produce 100kg of charcoal. Charcoal is illegally produced from high forests and woodlands and charcoal production has shown increasing trend almost everywhere.
An increasing livestock population combined with free grazing that leads to overgrazing in forest areas is the main driver of forest degradation (especially degradation of the woodland vegetation). Despite some changes recently, in most parts of the country, free grazing still causes forest degradation and negatively impacts forest regeneration. Forest conversion to grassland holds a significant share of green house gas emissions in Ethiopia, According to the findings of the national drivers of deforestation and forest degradation study.

Forestry-related drivers of forest degradation are illegal and excessive wood extraction in the remaining high forests and dry forest areas or woodlands. Wood extraction for industrial and construction purposes distributed across the forest regions is also another driver of forest degradation.

Underlying drivers of deforestation and forest degradation
The direct drivers of deforestation and forest degradation are manifestation of several underlying factors. The underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation in Ethiopia are described as follows. Low policy priority/profile of the forest sector due to low level of national awareness on significance of forestry for sustainable national development: The perception that forest sector is a single sector with limited contribution to the national GDP is dangerously erroneous. Forestry provides both products for th economy and indirectly support the economy by providing crucial ecosystem services. Given the rugged and mountainous terrain of the country, forestry plays critical roles for supporting sustainable development in Ethiopia. Globally, it is well established that there is a strong link between forest cover and water resource availability in the mountains and their downstream areas. Increasing forest cover in the highlands of Ethiopia (the water towers) will dramatically improve their hydrological functions through infiltration and soil protection thereby reducing floods while increasing availability of surface and ground water across the country. Water resource is a strategic resource for Ethiopia as this resource could be harnessed to generate hydropower sustainably, be used for irrigation agriculture, and even could be exported to nearby dry land courtiers for generating hard currency. Forest development can also have positive impact on other sectors such as tourism and wildlife development, besides its role in conservation of animal and plant diversity. Millions of Ethiopian also depend on forest resources for their livelihoods. Forests also increase resilience of communities and ecosystems to climate change impacts such as droughts and floods, while also positively influencing cliatic stability.

There is a critical need for continuous awareness creation on the positive and transformational impacts of forests in various sectors of the Ethiopian economy and ensuring its sustainability to the leadership and law makers. This would eventually lead to a recognition of forestry as a pillar of our development strategy.
Land-use planning: Land use planning is essential for long-term sustainable land use. The objective of achieving emissions reductions from the land use sector should be incorporated within broader efforts of land-use planning in order to synergistically promote environmentally sustainable, socially sound and economically viable land uses, directing economic activities to where they are most suited while avoiding conflicts between land uses. The ability to ensure coordination of multi-sectoral land-use activities is crucial in this respect. Effective land-use planning in turn should also be closely connected to tenure recognition processes (e.g. certification) and should systematically take into account existing land tenure rights. Despite its important place in the socio-political sphere of Ethiopian people, land has been historically used without considering its potential for sustainable development. Discussion on the need for land use planning has been around since the 1980s, No national land policy and land use plan have yet been adopted. A recent initiative lead by the Prime Minster's Office should be supported with commitment by all stakeholders to resolve this longstanding issue.
Inadequacy of the legal framework for forestry and poor implementation: The legal framework for forestry development lacks completeness. Forest policy and proclamation was enacted in 2007, but instruments for translating the proclamation into action such as forest regulation and directive have not been prepared so far. A new forest proclamation has been under preparation by MEFCC to address the gaps seen since the earlier one, including considerations on climate change and forestry issues. What is worrying is the poor law enforcement of existing forest laws leading to poor performance on forest management in the country. Ethiopia has adequate legal and policy frameworks for the conservation, use and management of natural resources, including forests. However, persistent inadequate institutional capacity, and sometimes indifference and lack of accountability thereof, implementation of the laws and polices has been traditionally very weak. The specific barriers include lack of financial and human resources, and or poor institutional capacity; absence of proper implementation guidelines in place, and for long time, structuring and restructuring of the forest governance system at the national and regional levels, limiting the forest sector's capacity to implement the existing legal frameworks. Even where there are provisions and institutions responsible for forest protection in some regions, poor legal consequences due low level of awareness by law enforcing agents, encourages illegal activities in forests. For instance, although the federal and regional forest proclamations (e.g., in Oromia) clearly show applicable legal consequences for forest trespassers and offenders, enforcement of those penalties remains limited due to lack of guidelines and implementation procedures.
Inadequate Institutional Capacity: Institutional gaps still exist pertaining to appropriate forest sector institutional structure at different levels ( at federal until recently and now at regional to local levels) and the limited capacity (technical and financial) to ensure forest governance. Frequent restructuring of forestry institutions and low level of public investment can be linked to the low level of awareness on the significance of forest resources for sustainable economic development by stakeholders at all levels. This attitude is gradually changing due to the increasing level of awareness created through the global climate change discussions.
Inadequate coordination among sectors is another critical underlying cause resulting in mismanagement of land and forest resources. Effective REDD+ implementation relies on cross-sectoral coordination and the development of relevant capacities among institutions overseeing various activities affecting forest activities across the different levels of government. The success of REDD+ coordination at the federal level in Ethiopia is dependent on institutional arrangements with coherent functional linkages among the various institutions relevant in the forest, agriculture and energy sectors, as well as ensuring coherent functional linkages with their counterparts at regional level. Currently, the main government institutions responsible for key REDD+ agenda such as forestry, environment, land use, livestock production at national level are the MEFCC, the MoANR, and MoLF. These line ministries should work in coordination so as to implement effective REDD+ Program.

While limited coordination on forest and land use sectors now takes place through the Inter-Ministerial Committee of the CRGE Initiative, there are no specific coordination mechanisms in place specifically devoted to the land and forest issues. The REDD+ Steering Committee may play a role here in the future, though it currently only has the mandate to steer the REDD+ readiness process and has not so far focused on substantive policy issues. Given most of the drivers of land use change emanate from sectors outside the forest sector, coordination between MEFCC and other ministries, in particular MoANR and MoLF is key. This is especially so until MEFCC's corresponding institutional structures at regional and lower levels are strengthened. Currently however, institutions, or individuals within institutions have little incentive to coordinate or engage in activities outside of their mandates – they receive annual budgets to undertake specific mandates, and have no legal requirements or incentives to coordinate or integrate activities. Further, the roles and responsibilities of many institutions overlap on important issues. In some cases this arises from a direct conflict out of lack of legal clarity or changing roles, while in others it is a natural consequence of the close relationships between certain sectors, such as forestry and agriculture. In each case, in the absence of working mechanisms or processes for coordination, such overlaps can limit policy coherence and affect implementation.

Poor tenure system and unclear forest user right is another underlying cause of deforestation, forest degradation, and poor land husbandry. Clear tenure system is another condition that makes successful REDD+ implementation more likely. Security of tenure is often crucial in incentivizing actors to make long-term investments (financial or otherwise) in land and forests. Tenure security is also necessary to enable actors to successfully manage their forest land without interference from intruders, who may seek to utilize the land in ways that conflict with REDD+ goals, while also empowering them to play a role in enforcement of forest law in the context of limited government capacities. In federal systems, federal-level laws should ensure that certain basic conditions of land and forest tenure are defined for the national territory. This has left particularly the forest resources ‘open access’ and everybody has access and no proper control was exerted from the formal or customary mechanisms. This has remained a disincentive to forest-dependent communities to invest in forest management and development activities. In particular, the absence of specific recognition of community forest ownership in the Federal forest law limits the potential for community ownership. This implies that private ownership is the only form of community ownership. The status of communal rights are given a low priority also by the land proclamation. This potentially limits tenure security in the event that communities want to undertake afforestation or assisted natural regeneration (ANR) on their land or participate in PFM. This is important for community forestry, since the existing Federal Forest Proclamation indicates that rights of forest owners to forest land shall be exercised in accordance with the land proclamations.

Absence of fair and clear benefit sharing mechanisms that define the rights of local communities to share economic benefits from forest management programs, the lack of institutional instruments such as standards, directives or guidelines as appropriate for its implementation created precedence for loose management and protection of the resources by local communities. The focus currently is on promoting forest management, particularly natural forest and towards conservation rather than maximizing benefits to local communities. A related problem is inadequate incentive to private investment in forestry development, that are crucial for reducing the timber and fuel wood supply gap in a sustainable manner thereby reducing pressure on natural forests.
The rapidly increasing population of Ethiopia will continue to depend on natural resources, and this will put more pressure on the resources unless appropriate measures are taken. In the context of forests, growing populations imply higher demand for fuel wood and cropland (leading to deforestation and land degradation).
Other Legal and Institutional Gaps from REDD+ Perspective
Inadequate provision on Participatory Forest Management (PFM)
PFM facilitates forest conservation, development and utilization through community participation. Despite its limitations PFM is considered, to be successful and the mechanism is considered to constitute one of the most promising strategies for REDD+ implementation in the country. PFM is considered to be most effective in situations where significant management responsibilities are devolved to communities and sufficient incentives are provided for communities to invest in forest management. This is particularly important in the REDD+ implementation. Forest conservation should enhance co-benefits, in particular livelihoods improvement, Ethiopia now considers PFM as a major vehicle for the REDD+ implementation . It is similarly important that communities have the appropriate capacities to implement their roles under PFM, and that measures are in place to avoid elite capture within communities.

The government should provide legal recognition for PFM and aim to balance the need to ensure that regional states, responsible for management of natural forests, sufficiently commit to PFM in terms of devolving meaningful rights and providing adequate technical support

There is no adequate provisions on PFM in the national legal framework, and there exists differences among regional states. The Oromia Forest Proclamation, for example, recognizes community forests as a distinct category of ownership and provides a clear and secure form of forest right that can be used for PFM. Forests under PFM are safer in terms of land use change, such as conversion to agriculture. This has been considered more favorable than the Federal legal framework, which recognizes community ownership only under the umbrella of ‘private forests’. The federal proclamation and laws at most regional states still need to recognize the PFM approach.
Further improvements are needed on PFM so far. Early lessons from PFM in Oromia show higher conservation outcomes including reduced deforestation, improved overall forest conditions increased wildlife populations and reductions in illegal logging. However, The conservation outcomes have not been matched with improvements in livelihoods, and thus measures should be taken for imprving livelihood outcomes.
In addition, local governments are often reluctant to grant significant rights to communities reducing trust on level of ownership limiting success and expansion of PFM. Currently, administrative contracts give the government party with the prerogative to terminate them, and though compensation is payable, this creates significant insecurity for community associations and other entities entering into PFM agreements with mandated government institution for forest administration. There is also not consistent guidance on benefit sharing form the joint forest management efforts.
Delegation of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Mandate
Environmental impact assessment (EIA) – procedural instrument that requires the assessment of a project’s environmental impacts – is a potentially important tool for ensuring the success of REDD+. If appropriately designed, EIAs can ensure that the potential effects of projects on forest areas or land-use change more broadly are identified at an early stage and mitigated or avoided. To be effective in this regard, EIA systems should fulfill a number of requirements:

  • They should be enforced to be applied in all major projects that can potentially have major impacts on forests and land-use change, including agriculture, forestry, mining, hydropower and infrastructure projects, and impacts on forests and land-use changes and on carbon balance need to clearly identified.
  • The results of an EIA should be directly linked to project approval, e.g. mitigation measures required for approval, or projects whose risks cannot be adequately mitigated are refused approval.
  • Proponents should be required to carry out EIAs early in the project cycle, ideally before authorization to enter the project development stage is given, and at least early enough so as to allow for adequate modifications to the project design to be made to avoid or mitigate identified negative impacts.
  • The authority responsible for reviewing EIAs and issuing approval should be independent and impartial and have sufficient capacities for ensuring their accuracy and adequacy.
  • A system for following up on compliance with mitigation measures is in place and is consistently implemented.

The major gap identified in this regard is that the responsibility for reviewing EIAs is currently under the sectoral ministries under which the activities fall. This creates a clear conflict of interest, since the same entities charged with promoting development in the respective sectors are those charged with reviewing their compliance with environmental standards. The current practiceis inconsistent with applicable legislation and policy documents. While MEFCC is in the process of establishing some oversight provisions, this has yet to be implemented and it is not clear how effective this will be in terms of enforcement. Existing MEFCC powers to overturn approvals in cases of gross oversights have never been used. Ultimately as long as responsibility remains with sectoral organs conflicts of interest will remain.

In addition, provisions seeking to protect forests in most guidelines on the EIA implementation in specific sectors or activities are generally weak. Provisions that require replacement of forests are general and often not compulsory. Follow up on implementation of Environmental and Social management Plan (ESMPs) is typically weak, leading to substantial implementation gaps. This appears to at least partially be a result of lack of incentive in sectoral entities to follow up, which MEFCC’s overall role to ensure supervision appears to be weak in terms of technical and logistical capacity at the moment. It is also very rare that penalties are applied in cases of non-compliance – there have to-date been no federal prosecutions based on non-implementation of EIAs, though in some cases administrative processes are applied to resolve issues, which may include finding compromise solutions.

Further, in practice EIAs are often undertaken at late stage in the process, despite the guidelines requiring that they are undertaken at project conception stage. This means that it is often too late to make significant changes. In the case of agricultural projects, EIAs are only undertaken after land has been specifically selected by the government for agricultural investment and added to the land bank, making it unlikely that major changes to how the land is to be used will be made following the EIA.

There is as yet no strategic environmental assessment process in Ethiopia, and it is not clear when the draft guidelines currently under consideration will be adopted and what their scope will be. A strong SEA process is an essential complement to the EIA process. To this end, a standalone SEA guideline has now been initiated and will be finalized before REDD+ implementation.

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