Population Growth and Environmental Recovery: More People, More Trees, Lesson Learned from West Gurageland

  • Muluneh Woldetsadik


This paper surveys the impact of growing population pressure on the environmental resource base of Ethiopia at large, and that of West Gurageland in particular, as reflected in the land use/land cover changes in light of the two noted and widely held neo-Malthusian (pessimistic) and Boesrupian (optimistic) views. The direction and magnitude of changes in the natural resource base and in population are evaluated and the driving forces of the changes are identified. By way of assessing policy implications of the two outlooks, the author argues that neither the pessimistic nor optimistic assessments, separately, can completely explain the relationships that exist between population, natural resources and rural economy in West Gurageland.

Data needed to appraise the spatio-temporal patterns of the population and resource base of the study areas were obtained from census reports, statistical abstracts, documents and aerial photographs spanning four decades. The GIS softwares such as MDSD, ARC/INFO and Arc View were used to process the land use data and evaluate the changes observed in the land use/land cover of six sampled Kebele Peasant Administrations (KPAs). The survey results showed that Ethiopia has a diversified and huge natural resource base, which is degraded and found in a critical state. At the national level, deforestation takes place at a rate ranging between 160,000 to 200,000 hectares per annum and forest cover decreased from about 35 - 40 % in 1900 to less than 3% at the moment. The amount of soils washed away ranges between 1.2 and 1.9 billion tons every year from the highlands. Furthermore, the land use survey results in West Gurageland revealed that cropped area and settlements, respectively, increased by about 25% and 35% in the last four decades. Pastureland and shrubland decreased by about 34 and 15% respectively. Wastelands increased by about 53% while eucalyptus tree density increased by about 170%. Hence, the state of `more people more trees` dictum holds true in this case. Grazing area and shrub land decreased while wastelands increased. Nearly all the 315 respondents undertook tree planting and more than half of them were involved in making terraces and building check dams.

In such dynamics, the impact of population growth is very important but cannot be considered the only critical condition. There are other socio-economic factors including government policy environments and institutional settings such as lack of land tenure security, poor infrastructure development, lack of good governance, social and political instability and civil war. These could have been equally or more important to population pressure in explaining the observed changes. Therefore, it is likely that population growth has not alone been responsible for natural capital resources management problems, stagnation of land use technology and agricultural productivity, and changes in the land use/land cover. Although land degradation due to soil erosion was observed, environmental enhancement resulting from increased tree density and other land conservation activities were also registered in West Gurageland. This substantiates the positive outlooks toward population growth. However, as there is variation among farm households, environmental recovery due to increased planted-tree density may not necessarily implicate growth in the economy.

EJOSSAH Vol.1(1) 2003: 1-33

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2520-582X
print ISSN: 1810-4487