The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Trees for Addis Ababa

Author - David Blair

1st July will be a day of celebration for us here at Trees for Cities as we mark Ethiopian Arbour Day (Yzaf Qen in Amharic). The event was initially celebrated during the reign of Haile Selassie, who called on Ethiopians "to practice tree-planting, in order that our hills and plains which have been stripped of their wooded cover may once again be clothed in their green mantle," and in recent years has been co-ordinated by the Ministry of Agriculture, recognising the importance of tree planting to the country.

Trees for Cities has been working with Addis Ababa based NGOs since 2005, during which time we have planted over 10,000 trees in the city and its environs. Our planting projects are aimed not just at improving the city's environment, but also at providing food and income for local people - like Banehamlak Guday. Mrs Guday has four fruit trees in her small yet well looked after garden, which were planted about a year and a half ago and are growing well. The trees are apple and plum trees sourced from the Ethiopian highlands by the local project partners of Trees for Cities.

The land on which the trees are planted was previously used by Mrs Guday as a vegetable patch to grow cabbages, lettuce, tomatoes, beans and herbs (such as rosemary) all of which are still growing alongside the new trees. A small compost heap sits in one corner, covered by sacking to keep the flies away and to keep the compost moist.

Ato Gufla Tekle, the local project manager, visits regularly to help prune the trees and tie the branches to ensure they grow well. Although the trees could potentially have borne fruit a few months ago, he advised Mrs Guday to remove the flower buds and wait another year to give the trees a better chance to establish properly before harvesting the fruit. She is learning from Gufla how to care for her trees, and assists him by keeping an eye on other nearby households who are involved in the project and advising her neighbours. In this way the project beneficiaries try as much as possible to assist and teach one another.

From next October Mrs Guday will allow her trees to flower and fruit, producing around 120kg of apples and 200kg of plums in the first year, with fruit yields increasing in subsequent years. She will keep some of the fruit for household consumption and sell the remainder to generate income - some of which she will reinvest in the orchard, including purchasing additional trees.

A family in Addis Abeba with their newly planted tree
A family in Addis Abeba with their newly planted tree
Photo © Trees for Cities

Since Trees for Cities began working in Addis, around 300 individual households like that of Mrs Guday have benefited from fruit tree plantings, as have over 30 community organisations including primary schools, vocational colleges, health centres, centres for the elderly and an orphanage. The project is run locally by the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society (EWNHS) - the NGO for which Gufla works - and the Birhan Integrated Community Development Organisation (BICDO). The two organisations ensure that all project beneficiaries are given support and training on how to look after their fruit trees.

Beneficiaries are selected according to need, as well as their enthusiasm and potential to look after the planted trees. The fruit tree planting programme has been targeted around six sub-cities of the Addis Ababa City Administration: Kolife Keranyo, Gulele, Yeka, Bole, Nifas Silk Lafto, and Kality.

London Roots

Trees for Cities started life in 1993 as Trees for London when a group of young Londoners recognised the need for more trees in the capital. The founding vision was to establish a charity that would be highly practical and would work with local communities to get more trees planted and green those areas most in need. In the early days the group was run entirely by volunteers and primarily raised funds for tree planting by arranging popular 'Tree Parties' around London - events the charity continues to organise to this day. The organisation grew steadily, developing a team of core staff and making a significant contribution to London's environment.

In 2003, on our tenth anniversary, we changed our name and remit to Trees for Cities, largely in response to requests for support and advice from cities within the UK and overseas. Our aim is to tackle global warming, create social cohesion and beautify our cities through tree planting, community, education and training initiatives in urban areas of greatest need, and we now manage projects in eight UK cities and four overseas.

Indeed, our very first overseas project was based in Addis, transforming disused wasteland in the Bambis area of the city. With support from the British Embassy, we established a partnership with Gashe Abera Molla (founded by prominent Ethiopian artist Sileshi Demissie) to create an orchard of 100 banana, lemon and avocado trees. The orchard is now helping to support the running of a café, which was established on the site following the completion of the planting project.

In addition to fruit tree planting, we have also established an ornamental tree nursery in partnership with the Hibret Ferie Co-operative and BICDO. This nursery was set up in 2006 and the 80 women members of the co-operative are being provided with the seeds, materials and practical support needed to run the nursery - including training in tree seedling production, maintenance and marketing.

New Shoots

Tree planting in Addis Ababa
Tree planting in Addis Ababa
Photo © Trees for Cities

Word of Trees for Cities projects in Addis has now spread, and demand for the fruit trees in particular is far greater than our capacity to deliver them. EWNHS is now investigating the possibility of establishing a fruit tree nursery in Addis with Trees for Cities' support in order to increase the project's capacity.

The ornamental tree nursery also continues to develop. A new batch of trees will be ready for transplanting between June and August of this year, before new seeds are sown in December. Now entering its third year, Trees for Cities is continuing to support the nursery and the committed women's co-operative running it, with the nursery expected to become self-sustaining in two year's time.

Trees for Cities relies on donations from individuals to deliver its Addis Ababa projects - with a particular need for support to meet the increasing demand for food- and income-generating fruit trees.

Please do consider supporting us:

Happy Arbour Day!

First Published in News File Summer 2009

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