Forest and Wildlife Conservation in Eritrea

By Habtom Tesfamichael

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We depend on the environment for everything.

Thus, we have to preserve and recover it. Since the industrial revolution the surface of the earth has witnessed rapid rate of pollution, deforestation and extinction of a number of species. In the developing world, especially with the emergence of modern colonialism, colonizers exploited natural resources of the occupied land to serve their colonial machine, which created unrecoverable situations in some places. In pre-colonial Eritrea, for instance, 30% of the land was covered with forest and there were many wild animals. Upon independence which followed colonialization and successive wars, forestation was reduced to below 2% and wild animals disappeared.

Since then, the Government of Eritrea has taken the initiative to enhance the biodiversity of the country. The Forest and Wildlife Authority is now in charge of this task. It conducted a work assessment meeting on February 21st, 2017.

The Authority conducted its annual work assessment meeting on the premises of the Ministry of Agriculture in which Minister Arefaine Berhe, Minister Tesfai Gebreselassie of Water, Land and Environment as well as leaders of Forest and Wildlife Authority branches and other participants took part.

Every branch of the Authority presented its annual report on their progress. Questions and opinions raised at the end of the meeting were addressed.

Mr. Abrha Garza, General Manager of the Authority, opened the meeting thanking the participants and stated that the meeting is part of the routine annual work assessment. He said some the major plans for 2016 included preparing the draft plan and organizational chart of the Authority, reclamation and conservation of forests, wildlife preservation and forest protection.

He also noted that the draft plan of the organizational chart has been set for approval by the Authority after discussions with respective ministries, institutions and individuals. Mr. Abrha had also noted the contribution made in stabilising the household demand on energy by allowing 256 individuals to make charcoal out of prosopis tree.
He also mentioned the efforts carried out to form national enclosure areas, which is still continuing. The project, however, is facing budget obstacles. Mr. Abrha concluded his speech thanking the co-partners and recommended to continue their cooperation.

Then followed the work progress assessment report of reclamation and conservation of the forests by Mr. Mussie Robel. He said that management of nursery stations and preparing seedlings, terracing and preparing the areas planned to be planted, founding and managing reserved areas, giving licences to businessmen to move forest by-products, conducting studies and preparing projects, preparing the draft plan, organisational chart and activities of the authority, and planning on job trainings were some of the 2016 plans.
Besides the 37 nursery stations 33 of them have produced 2,939,627 seedlings and 48% of these were in the Central region by 2016. The nursery level has reduced by 23% and transplanting by 17% from 2015 to 2016.

Regarding the foundation and management of reserved area, around 300,000 hectares of land enclosed in 2016 are under intensive care including 160,000 hectares of land in Northern Red Sea region as well as the elephant corridor in the Gash Barka region. In addition, some 500,000 hectares of land are planned for enclosure.

Community awareness is very critical in an effort to avoid deforestation and has to start from the roots. In order to ensure this, the Forest and Wildlife Authority is focusing in creating green clubs which encompass children and students. Green clubs has reached 482 for the 2015-2016 period but its number is expected to be higher.

Further, the expansion of the prosopis tree has not only worsened, but also is endangering the indigenous trees. Considering this problem, the government has decided to make charcoal from the prosopis tree as a mitigation measure and consequently meeting energy demands. 256 individuals have been licensed to make charcoal in Northern Red sea region, Gash Barka and Anseba regions.

Looking at the impact of mining on the environment. During the assessment meeting some highlights were presented. In fact, there is a national committee to oversee the impact of mining and is undertaking supervision activities every three months at Bisha, Zara and Colluli mining sites. The companies are also subject to national environmental standards and take their own mitigation measures. The branch has set up a nursery station near Bisha mining site and planted around 10,000 seedlings.

Similar measures are undertaken at the Zara mining area. Mr. Mussie stressed that they have also given training to experts and to forestry and wildlife inspectors at the national level. On top of that exchange visits were conducted with expert inspectors and local peasants.

Mr. Ftsum Hagos, Head of Preservation and Reclamation of Wildlife branch, on his part, presented annual work assessment of the branch in relation to the initial plans outlined for 2016 as well as the challenges and the action plan for 2017.

Mr Ftsum said in the meeting that they have made the Semenawi Bahri reserved area a concerted reserve area in cooperation with the EMIC, the villages and the community. As a result, the wildlife animals’ checklist has improved in the last few years. They have also provided on-the-job training to wildlife experts. The enclosure of national elephants reserve area is near completion and to make this possible all agricultural activities in the area have been moved to other areas there by avoiding conflicts and the endangering of local peasants harvest near the corridor.

However, six elephants have died and there are traces of the phenomenon of ivory theft. To avoid such problems they are on the way of creating protected area management system. Mr. Ftsum stated that status of Wild Ass in the Southern Red Sea region is in a good condition despite some instances of conflicts with the local people due to the lack of reserved areas to them. Moreover the branch has undertook the 10th year green campaign assessment and produced documents which reflect the activities of the green campaign.

Mr. Fstum indicated that shortage of facilities and budget, hunting and deforestation of the habitat’s wildlife, killing of wild animals by drivers, and unregulated use of toxic materials were some of the major problems faced this past year.

Lt. Colonel Ghebregergish Sium, head of the Law and Order branch presented an inspection report in which he cited the areas where the killing of wild animals and deforestation are commonly seen. He further explained the efforts exerted to control the phenomenon in cooperation with regional administrations, the military and the communities.

He indicated that due to the pressure caused by energy demands, the effort of controlling deforestation was difficult. 256 hectares of land were blazed in Haikota, Laelay Gash, and Tesseney sub-zones by forest fires. These events are actually common during the months of May and June and necessary preventive measures should be taken, he indicated. Lt. Colonel Ghebregergsh offered details of inspection activities for each region and challenges they had in 2016. He concluded his presentation by outlining the action plan for 2017.

Minister Arefaine Berhe addressed the meeting and called for increasing reforestation projects at the communal level and conducting timely assessments, making use of the prosopis tree and continuing studies of Asha Gereb.

Mr. Abrha Garza concluded the meeting by instructing new members of the Authority to enhance co-operation with partnering agencies and government bodies.