By Palko Karasz
New York Times – July 30, 2019
LONDON — Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has been getting his hands dirty this summer, and this week he got much of the nation to join him.
Students, farmers, urban professionals, foreign dignitaries, environmentalists and government officials planted millions of seedlings on Monday, in what the government said was the largest one-day tree-planting effort in history.
It was part of Mr. Ahmed’s campaign to plant four billion trees in Ethiopia before the fall to combat deforestation and global warming.
Many schools and government offices were closed for the day, as students and civil servants were urged to take part in the program, which was supported by several international aid groups.
The aim was to put at least 200 million seedlings in the ground a day, and by day’s end, government officials said that more than 350 million had been planted.
The figures could not be verified, but they far exceed the previous record. That is held by the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, which in 2016 planted more than 50 million trees in one day, according to Guinness World Records.
On balance, the planet’s forests continue to shrink at an alarming rate, but reforestation campaigns have picked up momentum around the world, recognized as a powerful tool to fight climate change, habitat loss and erosion. After losing much of its forest cover, China has set out to be the world leader in expanding it, and most countries have signed onto an array of ambitious tree-planting campaigns.
The Earth Day Network has called for planting 7.8 billion trees on Earth Day next year — one for every living person.
Worldwide, about 900 million hectares of land — almost 3.5 million square miles, nearly the area of the United States — is not being used by people and could support forests, according to a recent study by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology, ETH Zurich, that drew intense interest from environmentalists worldwide.
If trees were planted on all of that land, the study said, when they matured they could store about two-thirds of all the carbon that human activity has pumped into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.
In the early 20th century, about one-third of Ethiopia was covered in forests, according to historical estimates, but that had dropped to just 4 percent by 2000, according to the United Nations. The country’s population has soared to more than 100 million people, about five times as many as it had in 1960 — growth that has increased demand for farmland and timber, contributing to deforestation.
From 1990 to 2015, Ethiopia lost 2.6 million hectares of forest, or more than 10,000 square miles, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Agency.
Ethiopia is among the nations taking part in the United Nations’ decade-old campaign against deforestation.
Organizations like Farm Africa have been working on management of forests with people in Ethiopia and other countries who depend on them for their livelihoods.
Farm Africa has supported farmers in Bale Province in developing forest-compatible trades like beekeeping, producing essential oils and making bamboo furniture, and using fuel-efficient stoves to reduce dependence on firewood.
A version of this article appears in print on July 31, 2019, Section A, Page 6 of the New York edition with the headline: Ethiopia Takes a Day to Plant Trees. Many, Many Trees...