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Meles parks and Biodiversity conservation

Meles parks and Biodiversity conservation


By: Fisseha Asmelash (Researcher at the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute,

 Addis Ababa)

August, 2015


This very small note is prepared as a tribute to Meles’ 3rd year memoriam


Three years back, following the News of Meles’ death, the whole country seemed to be at a state of halt. Tens of Millions of Ethiopians went through a genuine sorrow. Global leaders like President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameroon were among the first to pay tribute. A ten day national mourning was declared by the government. No music was transmitted within those days through the government or private Medias. Rather, over 100 songs by different artist were released to celebrate Meles. Night clubs and Bars were closed or did not play music as it is Ethiopian traditional way of mourning. It is quite a recent phenomenon to remember how the funeral ceremony was touchy, memorable and majestic. 


Meles’ former friend but latter a strong opponent, Dr Negasso Gidada, appeared on the local Amharic News paper called Reporter and described Meles as a very hard worker and voracious reader. Scholars reacted as well. An Ethiopian scholar by the name Habtamu Alebachew, in his excellent academic review, equated Meles with that of Mao and Lenin by saying “Meles Zenawi is both a regime breaker and a regime founder as much prominent as Mao and Lenin were”. Abdul Mohammed, a long time AU diplomat, also described Meles by saying “a patient man”, “an original thinker of the most sustained and systematic kind”, “a grand reformer in a global tradition of state builders”, “the most intellectually brilliant political leader of his generation”, “one who never followed any policy prescription other than his own and never served an interest other than Ethiopia’s”. A renowned Nobel Prize winner professor Akbar noman also described Meles as an extraordinary leader who had economic prescriptions that would have prevented the global economic crisis from happening. There are no academic articles by oppositions to objectively challenge the facts mentioned by the above scholars.


It is for this leader that the government of Ethiopia decided to establish a foundation called The Meles Zenawi Foundation. Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn was the guest of honor at the launching ceremony of the Foundation and said in his speech that it is very important to study and understand the concepts and ideas that are imbedded in the very many policy papers and writings of Meles. Local governments at a District label decided to establish parks by Meles’ name. It is these parks that the writer wants to focus in this article.


Meles: an environment champion

Meles and his government did try a lot to conserve the environment. The issue of Environment is addressed by the FDRE constitution. It was Meles’ cabinet, in 2007, which ratified the first forest policy in Ethiopian history. It was Meles’ government that tried to encourage forestry investment with very attractive investment incentives. Meles tried everything to benefit Africa and Ethiopia in his capacity; Chair of the Meeting of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change. It was Meles’ government to come up first with Carbon Neutral Green Economic growth strategy in Africa. The agricultural policy of his government advocates and encourages Agroforestry. I believe Meles was the only/among the few world leaders who understood Faidherbia albida Agroforestry such that he planned to plant 100 million of this tree species on farmers’ fields. His government did quite very well in watershed rehabilitation. Most of all he kept the country peaceful so that the natural resources got rehabilitated. Bearing in mind that poverty is a precursor for deforestation, the fact that Meles did try hard to make poverty history is I think Meles’ biggest contribution as environment champion. UNEP in its tribute described Meles as an environment champion who believed that Africa needed to embrace Green Economy as the central pathway to sustainable development.


However, some foresters and environmentalists blame Meles for giving less attention to the forestry sector as there was no Forestry Ministry and for “allowing” destructive investments. These are good critics. Why Meles didn’t have Forestry Ministry was a question of the writer as well. However now there is Ministry of Environment and Forestry already established. With regards to the destructive investments, the whole scenario has to be evaluated. Investors’ lack of ethics, regional and woreda actors’ role, etc has to be evaluated. However the fact that land in Ethiopia is owned by the people and government and the fact that Meles fought and acted to ensure this will make Meles an environmental champion regardless. Since land is owned by the people and the government, should investors on a lease happen to be mean to nature, the land can be taken back and reclaimed.

What is Biodiversity?

For our simple understanding, Biodiversity can be understood to mean “variability within and among living things”. The biggest variation to observe is variation between species; some can be animals and some can be plants while some can still be microscopic organisms. But what is very fascinating to know is species contain significant variations within themselves. For instance Ethiopian Teff can be either Tikur Teff, Nech Teff, Magna Teff, Sergegna Teff. Furthermore, by interbreeding these varieties we can have several other types of Teff. Within the Kafa forest alone over 5000 variations in Coffea arabica is observed. If there is higher biodiversity there is also higher choice and a sustained livelihood. Due to the variation in Teff people can get several taste, nutritional and medicinal value, and even enjera colour to decorate the plates. If there is disease outbreak or climatic calamity (which is now becoming very common) the more the variation the more the likelihood that one of / few of the varieties be able to resist disease or the adverse climatic condition and hence sustain livelihood. If there is no variation however, the species can easily get extinct (lost from the face of the earth). Therefore, biodiversity conservation is considered to be the major global environmental policy. Meanwhile Biodiversity conservation means the maintenance of these variabilities within and among living things.


Biodiversity conservation strategies

There are two conventional Biodiversity conservation strategies namely In-situ and Ex-situ conservation strategies.

1) In-situ conservation strategy:  or referred asin place” conservation strategy is a strategy whereby the continuing maintenance of a population within the environment where it originally evolved, and to which we assume it is adapted is done. This type of conservation is evolutionary conservation measure which is believed to be the best method for conserving genetic resources. In-situ conservation is done on protected areas or natural managed areas. The most successful strategy of in situ conservation is formulation of protected areas (PAs) like National Parks.


2) Ex-situ conservation strategy: or referred as out of place” strategy is a strategy whereby the genetic resource is conserved outside its natural habitat. It is mainly concerned with sampling and maintaining as much of the genetic variation as possible that resides within and among populations of selected target species. Ex-situ conservation can be either evolutionary or static conservation. Evolutionary ex-situ conservation is when the ex-situ conservation is done on the field, where environmental selective forces are allowed to work. Static ex-situ conservation refers to clonal archives, seed banks and cryopreservation. Conservation biologists put In-situ conservation > Evolutionary Ex-situ conservation > Static Ex-situ conservation approaches according to the effectiveness for biodiversity conservation. Meles parks can therefore be used to conserve biodiversity both as In-situ or evolutionary Ex-situ conservation sites.


The way forward

The fact that Meles Parks are established almost in every woreda creates a big opportunity to conserve the biodiversity of the entire country. It is known that the biggest biodiversity loss is loss of a species. Loss of Nech Teff is more tolerable than loss of Teff in general. The former one is loss in gene while the later is loss in species.  Meles parks will most likely insure conservation of both species and gene. For instance if wanza (Cordia africana) in Gojam is planted in Meles park in Gojam and again wanza of Harar is planted in Harar, it makes it possible to have two varieties of wanza conserved. On the other hand if for instance koso (Hagenia abyssinica) is only found in Kafa and Koso is planted in Meles Park in Kafa, the species is conserved from getting lost totally. The loss of Koso would have been the biggest loss since if it is lost from Kafa it will be lost totally. So Meles parks can be excellent sites for species conservation. They can also be used to conserve varieties (gene conservation).


To sum up my note, I would like to suggest that the best way Meles Parks can be utilized is if they are given a role of biodiversity conservation. I would like to propose for Meles parks to have a master plan prepared. Net work of Meles parks should be established and information gathered at a center. Meles parks all together can conserve almost all the important species of Ethiopia if not genes.




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