Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)
I was intrigued to watch and read news about how thousands of people in Ethiopia ditched their offices, schools and homes to assist with the planting of 350 million trees across the east African country.

Farmers, academics, environmentalists and government officials from all regions were granted a day off to plant millions of seedlings in a single day - a feat that has possibly seen the country break the record of the most number of trees planted in a day.

But you see, for Ethiopians, the day was not only about showing off numbers. The Horn of Africa, as it is popularly known, has had its fair share of challenges.

Over the past couple of years, its forestry population has dwindled due to several factors such as climate change and pollution.

In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been intent on combating threats to food security and nutrition through the government’s national Green Legacy initiative aimed at planting a staggering 4billion trees in the country by October this year.

The “going green” movement in the region takes heed of the requirements set down in Goal 15 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals which calls for countries to protect, restore and promote the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems.

It also calls for communities to implement sustainable systems of managing forests well and come up with innovative ways to reverse land degradation.

The UN has published its 2030 Strategic Plan for Forests. It highlighted six forest global goals. These entail, among other things, that 93% of the world’s forest area comprises of natural forests, that forests cover 31% of the Earth and that 17% of the world’s forests be within legally established and protected areas.

Interestingly, in South Africa, this recent initiative by Ethiopia reminds me of Arbor Day and the work government and NPOs have carried out so far.

Events such as Arbor Day have not translated into meaningful days but instead tree-planting in the country has become an event for a certain elite.

In my view, there have been plenty of missed opportunities by the agricultural sector, environmentalists and many other experts to impart their knowledge and educate every single person about the importance of preserving life on land and practical ways of how to safeguard our ecosystems and what works for biodiversity in the current era of climate change.

For instance, The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is said to be the custodian of South Africa’s forest resources, which cover over 40 million hectares of the country’s land surface area.

According to the department, an amount of R1.2billion of its budget has been allocated to forestry and natural resources management.

Sure enough, one needs to give credit where it is due. The department has previously launched various programmes aimed at including all role players in taking care of the earth. Two of these are the LandCare community-based programme which deals with the sustainable management of natural resources as well as the Green Deeds Programme which encourages citizens to be conscious of the environment they live in and to take charge in preserving it.

Although these programmes were launched with good intent and plenty of enthusiasm, months later many have lost track of what their purpose is. It is important to point out that such frameworks cannot be confined to paper. They need to live and exist beyond the corridors of government departments.

Protecting our environment needs everyone on board. Therefore, let us not be afraid to get our hands dirty.

* Mokati is the group development content editor at Independent Media.