Scripta Varia

Policies in Ethiopia on Protection of Nature and Species

Hailemariam Desalegn[*]


Biodiversity in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is characterized by great geographic diversity and displays significant macro and micro climatic variability. 60% of Ethiopian landmass is mountainous, similar to the geography of Colombia. Ethiopia is also the site of one of the lowest elevations in the world – that is, apart from the Dead Sea – so it is a mountainous place but also has the Danakil Depression as one of the lowest places on Earth. Linked to this particular geography there is great biodiversity in Ethiopia, which is one of the most important issues for our economy, ecology, and lifeline. In fact, Ethiopia is considered one of the most important biodiversity hotspots of the world, endowed with an impressive diversity of plants, animals, and microbial genetic recourses. It hosts two of the biodiversity hotspots of the world, namely: The Eastern Afromontane and The Horn of Africa Hotspots.

Politically, Ethiopia is deeply committed to keep its diverse environment safe for the purpose of human existence. Globally, Ethiopia is known for suffering from famine but this has happened not because Ethiopia did not have any resources but because we have not managed our biodiversity properly. Therefore, Ethiopia’s biodiversity is an existential issue for us. It is not just a policy issue like any other policy, but an existential issue for the country.

However, our diversity is subject to direct and indirect threats. Similar to other contributions to this conference, habitat conversion is also a direct threat to biodiversity in Ethiopia and it is paired with the unsustainable utilization of resources and the pollution of the environment. Among the direct threats to biodiversity are furthermore invasive species entering Ethiopia. Climate change as a context, which affects Ethiopia through recurrent droughts and complicates the situation in Africa in general, specifically though in the Horn of Africa, also belongs to these kinds of threats, as does the replacement of local varieties and breeds.

In contrast to other continents, though, the demographic change, which is taking place in Africa, is so rapid that it has great implications for biodiversity and thus poses an indirect threat to biodiversity. Ethiopia’s population doubled from about 50 million people in 1990 to about 100 million in 2015 (United Nations, 2019a) and is expected to further increase from currently about 112 million people (2019) to more than 205 million people by 2050 (United Nations, 2019b). This demographic change further exacerbates the numbers of people living in poverty and intensifies the need for land for livelihoods and sites of agrarian production. After all, Ethiopia is an agrarian society such that large parts of its population are dependent upon natural resources and the environment as their principal source of income. Finally, the poor infrastructure in large parts of the country and periods of political unrest pose additional challenges for the loss of biodiversity and management of environmental resources within Ethiopia.

National Policy on Biodiversity Conservation

Biodiversity plays a key role in economic, ecological, and social fabrics in Ethiopia. Agriculture, which also includes forestry, is the dominant economic sector accounting for 83% of employment, 90% of export value, and 40% of GDP. Forests play vital roles in ensuring food security and sustainable livelihoods for millions of households throughout Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, protected areas cover 14% of the country. They play significant roles in conservation, recreation, eco-tourism, and employment. Thus, a focus in our policymaking was how to manage our protected areas in a sustainable manner. We have different types of protected areas that have been established to conserve and sustainably utilize our resources. We are very keen to see that our protected areas are really well protected because there are a number of issues that have to be addressed.

The first one is to ensure that physically these areas are protected. Yet, if we do not have an alternative livelihood for the indigenous communities in the protected areas, I think that the degradation of those protected areas is obvious. Thus, when we talk about protected areas we have to talk about indigenous communities. They have to own the protected areas and benefit from the protection and biodiversity conservation. Therefore, this is one of the policy areas we focus on.

The second issue that has to be addressed in the context of protected areas is invasive species and alien species which, as mentioned earlier, pose a threat to biodiversity. In Ethiopia, we have a number of invasive species that have come in, and our policy is also informed by these issues. The rehabilitation and restoration of protective areas is one of the issues that we are working on as a policy information but, when we talk about this issue, conservation-oriented restoration is a very important issue we have to discuss and refine. We have some exotic species in the plantations, which have been created. Nevertheless, the forest coverage, which used to be in the 1900s about 40%, has declined to 2.7% in the 1990s. Since 1990, the Government has taken aggressive action and now our forest coverage has increased again to 18%, which is a huge achievement. Yet, if we look into the details of this restoration, indigenous species are largely lacking, as it can be seen that only 2-3% of different kinds of trees have been planted. We have to work on how to realize native-tree plantations and this needs some kind of support in Ethiopia. We need to carefully and skilfully address this issue.

The last issue is public awareness and education and so far this area is lacking. Combined ex-situ and in-situ conservation issues are also one of the areas on which we focus in policy discussion and formulation. The question of which judicial mechanisms we can employ to deal with this issue is one of the main challenges.

Based on the rationale that in Ethiopia the conservation of biodiversity is one of the conditions of overall socioeconomic development and sustainable environment management, the National Policy on Biodiversity Conservation and Research was issued in April 1998. It provides a general framework towards effective conservation, rational development and sustainable utilization of genetic resources. It comprises the following topics: sustainable management of protected areas, control of invasive species, rehabilitation and restoration of degraded areas, sustainable biodiversity management, creating public awareness, ex-situ and in-situ conservation, and access and benefit sharing.

An example of an internationally supported project whose aim is in line with the National Policy on Biodiversity Conservation and Research is called “Sustainable development of the protected area system of Ethiopia” (SPDASE). From 2008 to 2016, SPDASE was run by the Ethiopian Wildlife Conversation Authority (EWCA) as the lead executing agency to develop capacity to effectively manage the national protected area system. It thereby focused on activities that have a knock-on effect within the management of protected areas, including the demarcation of protected areas, the maintenance and procurement of equipment, as well as the training of scouts through national and international experts (UNDP Ethiopia Country Office, 2019).

The Ethiopian Biodiversity Conservation Institutions

Wildlife, nature and species in Ethiopia are preserved in protected areas. When it comes to institutions, we have the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority, which manages 13 of our national parks, wildlife reserves and sanctuaries, measuring over 3.75 million hectares of natural habitat, including 1.8 million hectares of forest and woodlands. This represents almost 20% of the total remaining natural forest cover in Ethiopia. Consequently, this is one of the key initiatives to address the issue of biodiversity conservation, and our policies also support the establishment of this institution. The Ethiopian Institute of Biodiversity Conservation (IBC), the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society, regional park authorities, and botanical and zoological gardens, which are mainly located in Addis Ababa City as well as in regional cities and universities, play an important role in this context.

However, there is one specific story about Ethiopia, which is the millennium parks administration. At the time of the Ethiopian millennium – which took place eight years after that of the Gregorian calendar – the public had discussed issues of existential threat for Ethiopia and its population because of biodiversity loss. That was the main agenda in our millennium such that we said we have to achieve our survival in biodiversity. We have to go back to our own initial existence. We recognized that we had destroyed it in the past millennia and that we have to restore it in this third millennium. This was the message that the entire Ethiopian population discussed, and every village in the country established a millennium park, which is managed by the community in each village. The villages own these parks and in their management focus on indigenous trees. This is one of the movements that was launched during our millennium.

In Ethiopia we have national parks and we have controlled hunting areas. Furthermore, we have sanctuaries and wildlife reserves. Together, these areas cover 20% of the landmass of the country. Along the Great African Rift Valley is a very fragile ecosystem, for which reason we have to focus on this area in Ethiopia. This is where we have our natural resources that should be preserved. In this natural setting, some of the plants are unique to Ethiopia. In the highest part of the country, there are also tourist attractions but any ecotourism must be friendly to biodiversity.

Environmental Policy of Ethiopia

In addition to the biodiversity conservation policy, we have related policies and strategies. The Government of Ethiopia has included environmental issues in federal and regional constitutions and has passed new policies and legislation. In 1995, we had discussions to revise our Constitution. A focus of our agenda was the environmental and biodiversity issue. After rigorous discussions, the Ethiopian people decided that the Constitution should include claims regarding the environment and biodiversity such that any political party coming into power is obliged to act according to constitutional provision. This is one important step that has been taken in Ethiopia.

The second step is the Environmental Policy of Ethiopia, which characterizes natural resources as playing a pivotal role for the country’s economy. By setting specific guiding policy directions, it fosters the development of sector-specific strategies like the Forest Sector Strategy, which is one of the strategies that underpins biodiversity conservation policy, in addition to cross-sectoral strategies like the Climate-Resilient Green Economy Strategy. The Environmental Policy of Ethiopia attributes the prevalence of poverty in part to low growth and low productivity in the agricultural sector and in part to the populace’s dependence on agriculture and natural resources. The general objective of the policy thus is to improve and enhance the health and quality of life of all Ethiopians and to promote sustainable social and economic development through the sound management and use of natural, human-made and cultural resources and the environment as a whole, so as to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Within this framework, the Environmental Policy of Ethiopia has been legislated and that is the basis of our work for now.

Ethiopia’s Climate-Resilient Green Economy Strategy

Apart from that, Ethiopia has designed its own Climate-Resilient Green Economy Strategy, which is indeed unique. We wanted to show the global community that, even though our contribution to the worldwide greenhouse gas emission is minimal, as responsible global citizens, we are going to focus on our green economy development and we established this strategy. Ethiopia is acting as an advocate representing Africa’s claim for climate justice. As Africans, we are fighting with one voice for the global climate change issue as the international community, especially the United States, is stepping back from the Paris Agreement. Africa is the continent most affected by climate change, which we did not cause by our actions. Therefore, the international community has to understand and support us in such a way that Africa is not extinguished from this world. It is our role as responsible citizens to function as advocates for climate justice, yet it is the obligation of the others to respond to our claims. We are highlighting the moral responsibility of the wealthy countries: If even we as poor countries are doing this, then they have to be morally responsible to save this globe. This way, we are speaking with one voice as Africans to engage with the global community in climate-resilient green economy strategy design and the reduction of greenhouse gas emission to the necessary agreement we committed to in Paris.

Clearly, it is the objective of our Climate-Resilient Green Economy Strategy to identify green economy opportunities that could help Ethiopia reach its ambitious growth targets (which are stipulated in the Growth and Transformation Plan) while keeping greenhouse gas emissions low. We are focusing on climate-smart agriculture and livestock production as well as on climate-smart forestry, clean and green energy mainly from renewable sources and also green buildings, industries, and transportation. These are the four pillars of our economic strategies. An example of how we reduce greenhouse gas emission is a city light-rail transit, which is electrically driven and which is complemented by many similar projects throughout Ethiopia.

Forest Sector Strategy

Ethiopia’s diverse forest resources, including high forests, woodlands, and trees on farms, provide goods and services of important value to Ethiopia’s people, environment, and economy. Neo-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) play an important role in rural livelihoods and the growing market-based economy. The main commercial NTFPs in Ethiopia are honey, spices, forest coffee, mambo, gums, and resins. Ethiopia’s forests are also important for climate stabilization, contributing to global climate mitigation goals and providing local climate adaptation benefits. However, as explained earlier, our forest coverage was 40% in 1900 but then declined until 1990 and was 15% in 2015, and has further increased in 2019.

This is particularly relevant as there is a growing demand for wood, which increasingly puts a burden on the forest. In 2017, Ethiopia consumed roughly 124 million cubic meters of wood, and the level of consumption is on the rise. In fact, the growth of demand is expected to increase by 27% over the next 20 years, thus reaching an annual consumption of 158 million cubic meters by 2033. Wood fuel (fuel wood and charcoal) will continue to be the main forest product consumed. Today, Ethiopia consumes over 100 million cubic meters of wood fuel each year, with roughly one third of this amount coming from unsustainable use of forests and woodlands. Thus, a comprehensive sustainable means of forest management needs to be in place. In light of the Climate-Resilient Green Economy Strategy, the Ethiopian Forest Strategy must thus comprise the reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation while focusing on forest conservation and sustainable forest management. Forest carbon stock enhancement can be achieved through both afforestation and reforestation, which furthermore give special attention to the planting of indigenous trees.

Environmental, Climate Change, and Forestry Policy Administration

The Environmental Forest and Climate Change Commission (EFCCC) is the primary agency at the federal level responsible for managing environmental issues. The particular responsibilities of the EFCCC include the following areas: development of environmental legislation and policy, setting of standards, monitoring of environmental policies, implementing environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for proposed development activities, negotiating access and benefit sharing agreements, and undertaking capacity development in relevant agencies to ensure the integration of environmental management into policymaking. These responsibilities are associated with explicit objectives of the EFCCC, such as enabling the fast economic growth of the country to be sustainable and in so doing guarantee environmental safety. Furthermore, the EFCCC ensures that the Climate-Resilient Green Economy Strategy is implemented in all sectors. This objective is linked to Ethiopia’s desire to become a middle-income country by 2025. Finally, the EFCCC aims at improving forest development, protection and utilization to increase the economic, social, and ecological benefit to be obtained from forest resources.

Most large-scale environmental administration is dispersed between the federal government and administrative subdivisions, including nine regional states and two chartered cities. Therefore, on the regional level, states have similar institutions in place to manage policies related to environment, climate change, and forestry.


Even through Ethiopia has still been able to conserve some of the most important biodiversity in nature and species, these resources are at risk of immediate extinction unless integrated wide-range actions are taken by policy makers and implementers. Even though there is political commitment, the implementation is starkly lagging behind, which calls for instant and concentrated efforts.

The policy programs and actions recognize the immediate need and are acting in concerted effort to alleviate biodiversity degradation. However, increase in population and high dependence on natural resources pose a great challenge to effectively implementing the policies on the ground. Due emphasis should be given to various governmental and societal levels in order to enable them to understand these challenges and act wisely to benefit the current generations, without compromising the benefits at present and in the future.


UNDP Ethiopia Country Office (UNDP) (2013). Sustainable Development of the Protected Area System. Last accessed on September 19, 2019.
United Nations, DESA, Population Division (2019a). World Population Prospects 2019. Last accessed on September 19, 2019.
United Nations, DESA (2019b). World Population Prospects 2019: Data Booklet. Last accessed on September 19, 2019.


[*] Former Prime Minister of Ethiopia and Chairperson of Hailemariam & Roman Foundation.


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