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The History ofDeforestation and Afforestation in Ethiopia Prior to World War I Richard Pankhurst Institute of Ethiopian Studies Addis Ababa University The advent of firearms in Ethiopia, mainly in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries led, as argued by the present writer elsewhere,1 to a dramatic destruction of wildlife, first in the northern and later in the southern part of the country. This can be illustrated not only from travelers' accounts, but also by the well-documented sharp increase, and later no less rapid decrease, in ivory exports. An examination of the by-no-means abundant historical records relevant to forestry seems to show that the destruction of trees, though perhaps slower, was no less significant. Deforestation In considering the long history of Ethiopian deforestation one should emphasize at the outset that there are no reliable records of the extent of the country's forests prior to recent times. The modern forestry expert H. F. Mooney has argued that Ethiopia was "densely wooded" in "ancient, and not so remote times,"2 but there is in fact no way of establishing how much of the country was actually forested, or at precisely what period and at what rate deforestation occurred. There can, however, be no gainsaying that areas of major settlement were over the centuries steadily deforested, and that the result was "ruinous," as Stanislaw Chojnacki has observed, most "especially in the©Northeast African Studies (ISSN 0740-9133) Vol. 2, No. 1 (New Series) 1995, pp. 119-133 119 120 Richard Pankhurst hilly parts of the country." Explaining the processes involved he adds: "First the hills lost their covering of forests by human action, then torrential rains did the rest: good soil was washed away on the slopes and only poor grass and some bushes remained."3 Medieval Times Deforestation, it is clear, was by no means a uniquely modern phenomenon . Wood was reportedly scarce in medieval times, particularly in the vicinity of settlements, and especially of royal and other military camps. Shortage of firewood, as well as of provisions, was reportedly a major factor leading to the institution of moving capitals, notably in the 16th and 17th centuries.4 The Florentine merchant Andrea Corsali reported in 1517 that Ethiopian monarchs of that period traveled with such large retinues and armies that the latter, because of the exhaustion of provisions, could not remain in any one place for more than four months, nor return in less than twelve years.5 The presence of so many courtiers and soldiers, it may be assumed on the basis of later evidence, led not only to acute shortages of food, but also to the significant depletion of trees cut down for timber and firewood. Some, though not necessarily very reliable, evidence of deforestation is also to be found in oral tradition. Folk memory claims that a forest on Mounts Männagäsha or Wächächa (the names of two sides of a mountain west of present-day Addis Ababa) was "devastated" in "ancient times." The tradition asserts that Emperor Ya'qob (1593-1603, 1607) ordered that the mountain be re-afforested with tidh trees (Juniperus procera ) supposedly brought from the Wofwasha forest south of Däbrä Sina, and sown in prepared patches. It is further claimed that Ya'qob then issued an edict prohibiting the cutting down of trees in this forest.6 As the Portuguese Jesuit Manoel de Almeida noted in the early 17th century, there was at that time "not much woodland" in the country, which, he added, was "not well stocked" with trees. This shortage, he declared, was "not the soil's fault," but the inhabitants,' for, "every day" the latter cut down trees "for their houses and for fuel," but "none of them," he complains, had either "the energy or the will to replant a single one."7 A century and a half later the Scottish "explorer" James Bruce told a similar tale, observing that in the vicinity of the then-capital, Gondar, The History ofDeforestation and Afforestation in Ethiopia 121 people had "everywhere extirpated the wood," and in consequence labored "under a great scarcity."8 Trees in Urban Centers While emphasizing the extent of deforestation in historic...

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