Along the road to Keren town on the outskirts of Asmara, one would not miss the green belt of forested lands. Some hills are camouflaged by a canopy of mature Eucalyptus trees while others are covered with two or three years indigenous shrubs. This is a result of afforestation efforts by the Government of Eritrea since independence. In 2009, the government partnered with UNDP and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) to implement the Sustainable Land Management (SLM) project. Through the project, over 2 million trees have been planted in over 1,200 hectares of land.
On September 5th, 2018, UNDP Eritrea staff and Government counterparts took part in a knowledge sharing visit to the project site in Serejeka, outskirts of Asmara city. The team was led by UN RC and UNDP Eritrea Representative Ms. Susan N. Ngongi who advocated for documentation of project progress and lessons learned. Such information, would be useful in informing future projects and better implementation of the 1994 land proclamation nationwide. The afforestation project is deemed significant since severe land degradation caused by both natural and man-made practices such as overgrazing and deforestation had robbed the ecosystem of its ability to sustain itself and its inhabitants.
While giving an overview of the project, SLM Project Co-ordinator, Mr. Abraham Daniel, said that 54,000 individuals have benefitted from the project, out of whom 40% of the beneficiaries are female headed households. The project was implemented in 28 villages of Serejeka sub zone in Maekel region and has used a participatory approach; residents were involved in decision making and participated in SLM committees.
The project is a pilot implementation of 1994 land proclamation that revisits the usufruct land tenure system. Through SLM, farmers in the 28 villages have security of land tenure, the project also promotes social & economic equity and wise land use through the introduction of land-use planning. In addition, land conflicts were decreased because of land ownership. Most farmers have been able to rehabilitate barren lands and turned them to productivity. At Guritat village the community is thinking about building a dam for irrigation to increase their production during the dry spells.
The farmers chose to grow Eucalyptus because they mature very fast and were running out of firewood. In comparison, indigenous trees that would take long to mature and with population growth, people desperately searched for wood to use in their households. However, the project is slowly introducing indigenous trees back to the ecosystem. In households, the communities have adopted use of modern and smokeless traditional stoves Adhanet that uses less firewood. Farmers were also allocated woodlots to plant and harvest trees for their domestic and economic use. Because Adhanet uses biomass, people do not have to cut trees for firewood, instead they can cut the dry branches and leaves for fuel. Overall these initiatives have reduced stress on protected forested areas and contributed to savings at the domestic level.