For countries located in the arid, semi arid and mountainous parts of the world, like my country Eritrea; cutting trees and clearing forests to create farmlands seems the only option to feed the population. Although the approach sustains the food security of the population for a short time, the merciless cutting and destruction of forest resources have resulted in environmental degradation and expansion of desertification. Land is exposed to erosion and the fertile part of the soil has been depleted.
Therefore to combat this alarming situation and having realized the precarious conditions of the environment different sectors of government have been involving in a strategy of seizing farmlands from the population and reforest them. Still this approach meets a strong opposition from the population whose live hood is completely dependent on farming. It seems as if there is no way in collaborating the need of the population and nature.
Two years ago, I visited my mother’s village in Obel, a farming village of recently cleared forests. Fortunately for me there was a village assembly going on. The villager’s discontent with the recent policy of the government to seize their farmlands and reforest it was clear on their faces, voices and speeches. There was an environmentalist- a technocrat- who gives a long scientific speech on conservation and environmental awareness that is not understood by anyone -except a fellow environmentalist, that is me.
The villagers were quite, bored and some of them sleepy. It was not until their turn to speak that the uproar began. A much respected elderly stands and start to speak; he says “We love our trees and forests! We live in it for generations! It is a source of food, firewood and security for us! But we also need farmlands to feed our children! Human life is more important than trees! You are trying to value trees more than our life…… and broke in tears.
What happens after that is a murmur, some wailing and crying. I can imagine the plight of the villagers and I can’t stop agreeing with the environmental expert. I vow to myself there has to be a solution to the dilemma. There has to be some way through, to conserve the environment and at the same time to satisfy the farmers.
Later on I come up with a strategy of, planting multipurpose species. This is because planting multipurpose species will provide the assurance of growth, an economic benefit and environmental sustainability. My mind goes to Aloe, a species that has been demonstrated it’s multipurpose for centuries. Most Aloes have some medicinal or commercial value, but it is the Aloe Barbadensis Miller (Aloe vera or “true Aloe”) plant which has been of most use to mankind because of its multiple benefits. Cultivation of Aloe vera has a multiple objectives that include Health benefits, productive and social welfare benefits, soil and water conservation, environmental Provision and Tourism. It is one of the most versatile plants in the surface of the Earth.
For those with a little interest in plants, Aloe vera is a perennial, species of Aloe, native to Africa. This species is now popular both with modern gardeners and commercial farmers. I am sure you will have it in your garden, shampoo or some other cosmetics. Next time you are using a plant-extract cosmetic product, please look for Aloe vera in the ingredients.
I choose Aloe vera not only because it is simple to grow, but also it is a native crop that grows naturally in most parts of the country, including my mother’s village. Eritrea has the right climatic conditions, diverse ecology, an arable land and concerned government sectors to carry out successful Aloe vera plantation. The Aloe vera can be cultivated in hillsides and mountains, around coastal areas, in community closures and in modern farms. If we effectively utilize this plant we will be one of the greatest producers in the regional and international markets where the demand is sky rocketing.
My primary objective of this project was to meddle between humans and the environment -what a peace keeper. My other objective was my country Eritrea, a country that has been damaged by long term colonialism, war for independence and natural problems. I owe too much to the people and a country that provides me a free education in which otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to afford. My project is a contribution: in addition to the promise held by the Eritrean people and government to heal this damage –another lame excuse to launch my scientific research.
My project was an instant success, as long as the villagers promised to reforest the degraded land the village administration and the National government agreed to give the people their seized land. At the same time the people start to reap the benefits of the plants. This year they sold their first cultivation to the market. Now everybody has his farmland and a fat amount of money in their pocket and they don’t have the wrenched face that I have seen during that memorable day of village assembly. I become a local hero in my mother’s village and my trips to that village become constant and pleasant– everyone wants to invite me to his house.
I am planning to introduce this project to the wider community. There is a constant discussion with the policy and decision makers of the government to implement the project nationwide. The future of the project is to reduce poverty by exposing farmers to Aloe vera farming and its value addition for income generating and poverty alleviation within the semi arid lands of Eritrea.
Now for people who only knows Gold can be found only inside earth, they have a reason to call Aloe Vera “The Green Gold”.
Blogpost and photo by Angesom Ghebremeskel Teklu (Asmara, Eritrea) – angesomteklu(at)gmail.com
This post is entry nr #7 in our #WCA2014 blog competition. The five blogposts with the most and highest votes will receive a signed copy of the book "Trees for Life". The most popular blogpost will get an iPad.
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