FORESTRY RESEARCH IN AMHARA REGION: ACHIEVEMENTS, STATUS, AND PROSPECTS
Forests have multiple values, many of which cannot be provided by other kinds of land use. They are sources of food, feed, fuel, construction and industrial wood, gums, resins, medicine and livelihood to millions of people. Trees sequester carbon and contribute to adaptation and mitigation of climate changes. They are vital in soil and water conservation, watershed management and ensuring healthy hydrological cycle in our surroundings. Trees have the potential to maintain soil fertility and can help combat soil hunger and boost agricultural productivity to a great extent. Combating land degradation and desertification as well as rehabilitating degraded lands can be successfully be carried out through tree planting. Trees can serve as stewards to greatly minimize the risks of silting up of hydroelectric dams. In general, although forestry’s contribution to the national and regional economy has not been well documented, its contribution to the total GDP is quiet significant and comparable to other sectors if direct consumption of commodities such as fuel wood and charcoal, the indirect contributions of forests to watershed management and soil conservation as well as that of forest products utilized in other manufacturing and construction activities are considered in the calculation. Forest resources also play a vital role as sources of energy since eighty five percent of the total energy comes from the biomass. They also provide Non-Timber Forest products (NTFPs), which cover a wide range of products. Moreover, in recent years the role of forestry in food security has also started to receive attention from rural development experts and policy makers.
Despite the above mentioned socio-economic and environmental benefits that could be derived form the forest resources; they are in a continual state of flux, shrinking and diminishing all the time and on different spatial scales due to unwise and unsustainable handling and utilization and other many factors. Rapid population growth combined with growing demand for arable land and food has resulted in indiscriminate clearance of forest reserves and trees from the landscape, which, in turn has brought about severe shortages of forest products such as fuel wood, industrial and construction wood and other wood and non-wood products. Moreover, as the result of loss of vegetation, millions of cubic meters of top soil is lost on annual basis resulting in a massive land and environmental degradation and serious threat to sustainable development.
Therefore, curbing the above mentioned problems, the forest sector is expected to play a great role in the on-going effort to attain economic growth in general and assure food security and poverty reduction in particular. If forestry is given a proper place and attention and if its role and contribution properly assessed, it will have a great potential and play a significant role in an effort to bring economic growth and sustainable development in the region. Forest resources should not be continued to be over exploited and their role and importance should not be continued to be undermined. Thus, the challenge today in one hand to arrest the rate of deforestation practices that cause destruction of our forest resources and on the other hand introduce better technologies and improved practices that help to bring sustainable forest management into the picture and make communities to be beneficiary of their forest resources.
Amhara region due to its geographical location and physiographic disposition and the resulting agro ecological diversity has a comparative advantage of enhancing forestry and agro forestry development in various ways and scale and produce various forest and forest products both for domestic and foreign markets. Various efforts of afforestation and reforestation are under way in the region with government and non-government initiatives in order to restore degraded lands that are denuded of vegetation and to help communities to develop their own forests. However, such efforts have not been effective as they are constrained by various technological, social, economic, and institutional factors. The current situation in Amhara region is a very great challenge for the forest sector in general and the research community in particular and demands an action oriented research and a concerted and integrated development planning process. Through generation, development, and delivery of improved technologies, practices, and information, forestry research has the potential to enhance forest development and wood production and help the sector to contribute to the overall effort of economic development.
Since the commencement of forestry research in ARARI, various forestry trials and experiments have been conducted and their results have been documented. Accordingly, more than 31 forest technologies in the area of agro forestry, plantation forest management, natural forest management, bio-fuel, non-timber forest products have been generated, adapted, and documented. Currently, as the result of BPR, forestry research is organized as one of the five directorates in ARARI, and enjoys an equal status with other disciplines. The Forestry Research Directorate under ARARI is the regional responsible body mandated to carry out forestry research activities with the aim to generate improved technologies with the capacity to solve forestry development constraints and problems. Our research undertaking begins with problem identification, passes through a rigorous planning and research proposal formulation phase, and goes to implementation, brought to critical review of completed research works, and ends up with technology/information delivery with various forms. Since March, 2009, based on identified and prioritized forestry problems, our directorate started to craft research proposals under mega research projects with the aim to address major forest development constraints and problems. Such an experience helped us to avoid fragmented research activities, establish a framework for better monitoring and evaluation of research endeavors, and to effectively utilize the limited human, material, and financial resources.
Nowadays, we have more than 45 new and on-going research activities under 6 mega projects with different objectives, components, activities, and phases being carried out at 5 research centers and under different agroclimatical dispositions in the region (see the attached document).