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Deforestation and Environmental Degradation in Ethiopia: The Case ofJam Jam Province1 Taddesse Berisso Addis Ababa University Deforestation and soil degradation have reached catastrophic levels in Ethiopia over the last 100 years. It is believed that about 40 percent of the country was forested at the turn of the century.2 At present, the forest reserves are estimated to be under 3 percent and about 100,000 hectares of forests are lost annually.3 About 1 billion tons of top soil are also believed to be eroded annually from Ethiopia.4 The depletion of forests, with their remarkable capacity of preserving the land from degradation, together with factors such as civil war, drought, and bad socio-economic policies, have placed the country in a position where its people cannot even feed themselves. While it is the north that suffered most, the southern part of the country is also going through rapid environmental changes. The causes of environmental degradation are diverse and often complex . They are largely place-specific and are greatly influenced by local socio-economic and national political forces operating on a particular society.5 There can be no monocausal explanation. Sometimes the causes are difficult to distinguish from, and are dependent on, other causes. The solutions to the problem are equally difficult to achieve. Yet, to accurately distinguish the cause allows for effective policy initiatives. In Ethiopia, environmental degradation is commonly blamed on "acts of God" or "acts of irrational peasants,"6 and there has been little attempt to assess the real causes of the problem until very recent times. This article attempts to look at the causes of progressive environmental«Northeast African Studies (ISSN 0740-9133) Vol. 2, No. 2 (New Series) 1995, pp. 139-155 239 240 Taddesse Berisso deterioration in Jam Jam province of the Sidamo Region, Southern Ethiopia. It argues that deforestation and environmental deterioration in Jam Jam have deep historical roots and have been profoundly influenced by Ethiopian government policies. The article is based upon anthropological field work carried out in Jam Jam from July 1990 to September 1991. The Setting, Traditional Guji Culture, and the Environment Jam Jam province is located in the central part of Sidamo Administrative Region, Southern Ethiopia. Its capital Adola (Kibre Mengist) is 490 kms. south of Addis Ababa. The province has an area of about 10,000 sq. kms. and an approximate population of 300,000 people. Population density is about 25 persons per sq. km.,7 with a heavy concentration in the high altitude. The province is inhabited predominantly by Guji-Oromo who subsist mainly by cultivating grain, pulses, and enset (false banana) in extremely variable altitudes. But their real wealth consists of their cattle , sheep, goats, and horses. Emotions and pride are centered in stock. People who do not own cattle are not considered to be proper Guji.8 Overall, Jam Jam is one of the richest provinces in the country. It is endowed with fertile loam soil, moderate climate, adequate rainfall, many perennial streams, minerals such as gold and asbestos, and with a wide variety of fauna and flora. Philip Maud, who visited the province in 1904, recalls thick forests full of elephants, lion, rhinos, and the like.9 Jam Jam still possesses abundant natural forests and pasture lands in comparison to the northern Ethiopian highlands. However, the natural forests in the province are progressively deteriorating. According to informants , a few decades ago the Guji had to fight hard (sometimes with the help of fire) against the forests that deprived them of pasture and farm land and threatened them with wild animals. Today, however, in some areas they either have to use cow dung and crop residues, or walk over 15 km. to collect firewood. Guji are one of the many groups of Oromo people in Ethiopia. It is not clear when and why they separated from other Oromo groups. Before Menilek's conquest of their land in the 1890s, the Guji were autonomous people with their own clearly demarcated territories and Deforestation and Environmental Degradation in Ethiopia 141 political leaders (in the form of abba gada). Their communal land ownership and their gada system of government were important in bringing balance between population and...


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