Saturday, April 17, 2010


One Million Trees in Ethiopia

Gashaw Tahir was shocked when he returned to his native Ethiopia after living overseas and saw how the land had been degraded, as well as the effects of deforestation on the climate and quality of life for his community, which overwhelmingly relies on farming.

Rivers have dried, mountains have been deforested, and rising temperatures due to climate change are making plant life more difficult to maintain. Tahir decided that something had to be done. His story is told in a new video from

“You did not used to be able to see the sky when I was there.” Now the landscape is mostly rocks, he told When he was growing up there were 10 or 15 rivers near his hometown. “Maybe today one or two exist. That is how bad it is. In addition, wild animals were scarce, the average temperature had significantly risen and malaria was spreading. People are now dying from it “more than HIV/AIDS,” he said.

"My ultimate vision is making Africa green again," he says. "That inspires me, touches me, and moves me into action."

The solution, Tahir decided, was to restore the forests on the local mountains. Along with environmental recovery, his project would provide income opportunities and empower the youth in his struggling community. (Photo: The local community in Ethiopia helped throughout the tree-planting project – beginning with distributing and planting seeds.)

He gathered young people from his hometown — only a few dozen at first — but those young people recruited their friends and family until there were hundreds. Hiring young people from both Muslim and Christian communities to plant the seedlings, Tahir also saw it as an opportunity to promote religious co-existence as well as give them a way to earn money for clothes and schoolbooks.

He first asked his city council for a two-acre area and employed 450 children for two to five months in which they collected fertilizer to mix with the depleted soil and then packed and planted the seedlings he started in time for the summer rainy season.

On only two acres of land they planted thousands of seedlings. Now, Tahir owns 11,000 acres of Ethiopian land on which his group has planted one million trees. Gashaw Tahir hopes his project will continue to grow throughout Ethiopia and Africa, continuing to provide opportunity and an improved environment. 

The project, known as the Greenland Development Foundation , grew exponentially from there as he acquired more and more land and employed more young workers. He and his crew have now planted more than 1 million trees, and media coverage has inspired similar projects elsewhere in Ethiopia.

Recently given 4,450 additional hectares of land, Tahir plans to expand his efforts even further by hiring up to 1,000 young people to plant fruit trees such as oranges, papayas and mangos.

Tahir’s focus on reforesting mountaintops reflects the role these peaks have in protecting the farmland located in Ethiopia’s valleys, while at the same time providing income opportunities for local children. (See more photos at: )

Along with stopping erosion, the fruit trees will provide food and additional income for the population. In a country that continues to face food insecurity, he says, the trees will also be more sustainable because people will be less likely to cut them down to sell the wood and purchase food.

“My motto is making Africa green again, not only by just planting trees, but by planting fruit trees that will sustain, that will make a difference in people’s lives,” Tahir said. The people will “take care of the plant because it’s bringing money and it can take care of the ecology. It will have a dual purpose.”

He has also established an agricultural research center to educate young people and their parents on modern farming techniques. According to Tahir, about 80 percent of his community’s population work as farmers. He says many are not growing enough food to feed themselves.

The research center provides hybrid seeds and teaches modern techniques for planting traditional crops such as sesame and new crops like cotton and corn. (Photo: The trees require care throughout their life. Here Tahir waters the tree seeds.)

With the education, “now they can do what is best for them,” Tahir said. “They don’t have to guess anymore” about which crop will offer a good yield or when to plant the seeds. The research center benefits around 800 young people, as well as several hundred of their parents."

Since beginning the Greenland Development Foundation in 2006, Tahir says, he has already noticed positive environmental changes such as the return of grassland and shade, and a drop in the average temperature. (Photo: Tahir meets with local experts to discuss continued care for the seedlings)

Ethiopians are now aware of the environmental challenges that are affecting their economy and quality of life, he said. Now, as a next step, they need the will to take action and he is happy to provide an example.

“With these young people, when I give them a job, when I give them hope, when they get money, they are empowered,” he said. “They see it.”

UPDATE:  Mr. Gashaw Tahir - Example of Private Sector “Green Hero”

Gashaw Tahir from the Amhara National Regional State, was awarded top prize in the private sector category in this year’s National Green Awards. Tahir, founder of the Greenland Foundation, is using his own finances to support a successful land rehabilitation effort in rural Ethiopia that incorporates elements of employment, education, and land use training and demonstrated the “before” and “after” depicting his work in the field.

Tahir, part of the Ethiopian Diaspora in the United States of America, came back after a long absence and found that the natural resources in his home area had become severely degraded. He decided to take the initiative and expended his financial resources and physical power to do something about the situation. He received 40 hectares of degraded land from Awi Zonal Administration, developed a tree nursery and proceeded to transplant the seedlings.

This has already changed the landscape and the trees are on the way to maturity. Tahir employed over 300 needy and orphaned youth. By so doing he not only created employment opportunities but has also has saved the youth from unhealthy pursuits and made them productive citizens. (Photo: Gashaw in Copenhagen for the COP15 Climate Change Conference)

While creating value for himself, Tahir has also liberally distributed indigenous tree seedlings to individuals and organizations free of charge. The dissemination of seedlings is a conscious effort to empower affected communities to become part of the solution to the problem and part and parcel of the change to be brought about with the mutual involvement and inclusive effort of all stakeholders. Mr. Gashaw has also conducted training on seedling planting attended by junior officials from public institutions in the region.

A major secret behind his success is the support from family members. His father donated the first chunk of seed money while other relatives made contributions too. His wife has shouldered the burden of bringing up the children while he moves back and forth to oversee the project. Images abound of his young daughter planting trees during holidays.

"You see, one person can enroll other people," Tahir says. "Outreach to them for a vision. And he can lead, and other people follow and they can make a difference. You can do a lot. I planted over a million trees, hired over 450 young people, and made a difference in the ecology. That's what I have done. If one man can do this with collaboration, we can make a huge difference."
Gashaw Tahir, an American citizen who planted one million trees in his birth country of Ethiopia, visited  Washington, DC during the Cherry Blossom Festival.


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