From a bare mountain to a dense forest: restoring the land in Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, decades of continuously clearing trees for charcoal and firewood have left thousands of hectares of hills barren.

This destruction of vegetation has exposed the communities to severe drought and starvation – but World Vision's forest rehabilitation intervention has helped to bring the forest back.

The program has helped transform the lives of people like Aster and her husband Ergado. They used to cut down the trees on their land and fewer would grow back each year. When it rained their land would turn into mud and stones would wash down from the hilltops. Their soil was becoming infertile – it would be a struggle to harvest even 200kg of maize in a year.

Families in their community used to experience the terrible effects of hunger and starvation frequently.

"My family of seven did not get even one meal a day and usually go to bed hungry for more than six months of the year," says Aster.

Desperate for another source of income, and pregnant with her youngest son, Aster would walk for eight hours to a nearby town to visit the flour mill or sell sacks of charcoal from the trees they had cut down.

In 2006, World Vision Ethiopia and the World Bank collaborated with the local community and the regional government to help combat the environmental crisis and assist families to improve their livelihood. Farmers were supported to form cooperatives, which invest into projects that would benefit them all.

Degraded land was restored using Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) techniques, a deceptively simple approach that involves pruning and tending to the stumps and remains of trees that have been cut down. Because of the strong roots these plants already have in the soil, they are able to grow back quickly.

The return of trees and vegetation to farmland has helped to stop soil erosion. The fertility of farmland has recovered – and for families like Aster's, this means their food and income are secure. Their land produces more food, trees are pruned instead of cut down to provide firewood and grass from the land can be cut and used for cattle feed.

Now Aster is able to grow a range of crops and has planted fruit trees to earn extra income for her family. Photo: Tessema Getahun/World Vision.

Aster's land now produces almost ten times as much maize as before and she has been able to invest in other crops.

"I have been able to grow different fruits and edible plants such as mangoes, papayas, sugarcane, cassava and others, both for my family's consumption and for sale. I have also bought two cows which gave birth to two calves each. These cows are giving me and my family four litres of milk per day," Aster proudly explained.

Aster no longer has to carry heavy loads into town. The cooperative was able to build a flour mill in the centre of the village, just five hundred metres from her house.

"I have enough food on the table every day and I sent all my children to school," says Aster.

The efforts of the community, the government and World Vision have transformed the bare eroded hills into an ideal tourist attraction in the area. The forest has become home for monkeys, hyenas, wild pigs, leopards, gazelles, hares and varieties of birds.

How you can help

Learn more about our work with Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration. You can support our work in restoring local environments and helping families earn a living income by sponsoring a child today.