The Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) is a model in forest management that has been in the forefront in the fight against deforestation and the multiple environmental threats on biological resources that have brought significant decline in biodiversity in the country, according to a researcher at Ethiopian Environment and Forest Research Institute.
Senior Researcher at Ethiopian Environment and Forest Research Institute, Wubalem Tadesse told ENA that “one of the unique features of EOC, a model in forest management, is the approach of jointly working with the local community and followers for having a suitable forest development. What is missing in the nation’s reforestation program has been this one.” .
The orthodox church forests are national heritages, he added.
“I think forests of the Orthodox Church are critical sites for preserving what was left of the vanishing Ethiopian forest habitat. In its over 35,000 churches and monasteries there are endogenous trees and endemic plants,” he stated.
The researcher, however, argued that some of the indigenous plants in the churches and monasteries are now under threat and declining.
Conservation of forests by only the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has become a burden and difficult to save the precious forests from the pressure of the local people as they are invaded for agricultural land, grazing and destructive timber production, he noted.
In this regard, the local communities and government support is vital to sustain the effort of the church in managing the forests and environment reservation, Wubalem suggested.
EOC Development and Inter-Church Aid Commission Head, Kinde Rufael told ENA that the forest management practice of the church is highly attached with values and beliefs of its doctrine.
According to him, the priests of the orthodox church have been ensuring that forests stay healthy in close to 35,000 churches and monasteries which cover 75 percent of the forests in Ethiopia.
“The church has been effectively managing surrounding environments for a long time by using its own religious justifications. Frankly speaking, if you see the current status of the forests in Ethiopia, you will predominantly find the forest resources at most of the compounds of the Tewahedo churches and monasteries,” the head stressed.
Evidently, the problem of deforestation is a phenomenon in Ethiopia, specially in the densely settled areas of northern and central Ethiopia with the highest rate of soil loss since the forest coverage of the area is highly degraded as compared to the south and western Ethiopia.
The EOC has managed to save the small and remaining patches of the forest in the country, Kinde added.
“As a country, we have seen recurrent droughts and reduction of land productivity because of climate change,” he said, adding that the church is “trying its best to safeguard at least the biodiversity of the church forests that have been positively contributing for the preservation of the climate.”