Forest decline in South Central Ethiopia Extent, history and process
Abstract: This study presents the extent, history and process of forest decline in Awassa watershed, south central Ethiopia. By combining different data sources such as satellite images, social surveys and historical documents, forest decline is described quantitatively and qualitatively and the main causes behind this process are identified. Forest decline in the study area is interpreted as the result of a combination of socio-political changes, economic activities, population growth, cultural patterns and agricultural developments while local conflicts over resources also play an important role. The findings of this study reveal forest decline to be a continuous process associated with spatial fragmentation and location specific losses. The recent increase in production of the cash crop khat has made a significant impact on the forest through several mechanisms: it relocates the agricultural/forest frontier; it causes intrusion and permanent settlement within forests; and fragments remaining forest. The analysis of human-spatial boundaries indicates unsystematic management of the natural forests by several administrative units. As a result, multiple claims have been made on the forests simultaneously as weak control and accountability conditions have negatively affected forest management. The main conclusions are as follows: Forest decline in the study area has a long history, spanning at least one century. The causes are identifiable as both temporally spaced individual events as well as chains of events. These interact with each other at different levels and scales as well as with the geographical properties of the study area. Land users’ rationale in weighing the advantages between keeping and replacing the forest is affected by economic gain, market conditions and transport facilities. Multiple claims to the forest land and weak accountability contribute to inefficient management, which accelerates forest decline.
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