Orthodox Church Protects Ethiopia’s Remaining Forests
Ethiopia is not a country known for lush landscapes and incredible biodiversity. But that may be because we haven’t been paying enough attention. Meg Lowman, the Chief of Science and Sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences, and affectionally known as “Canopy Meg,” recently wrote an article for Huffington Post that exposed a bright-green patch of hope. For centuries, Ethiopia’s churches have protected and tended gardens rich in the country’s now rare, native biodiversity.
Christianity in Ethiopia dates to the 1st century AD and was declared the country’s national religion as early as 330 AD. With the expansion of Islam in the 7th century, many of Ethiopia’s African neighbors converted. But Ethiopia maintained its ties with the Orthodox Church — a Church with a mission to retain a green necklace around the place of worship — a veritable “home for all God’s creatures.”
While 95% of Ethiopia’s forests were gradually cleared for agriculture, timber, and firewood, Orthodox priests preserved small pockets here and there around the churches. Ranging in size from a few acres to several hundred acres, the church forests are revered as sacred places and used for their important resources. One tree, Prunus Africana, is believed to be a cure for prostate cancer. And sick people come and bath their feet in the springs, which are healthier with the shade of the trees.
A student alerted Lowman, a pioneer in tree canopy research, to the existence of the forests. Although the priests have successfully maintained the trees for centuries, increasing encroachment by cattle and hunters was diminishing the little biodiversity there was left. With the help of a National Geographic biodiversity grant, Lowman travelled to Ethiopia to visit the “forest oases, document the bizarre and wonderful creatures that call them home, and build alliances with the religious leaders who care for them.”
Lowman has hosted workshops with the priests and helped them build fences around their forests to protect them. But she recognizes the acute pressure to find a balance between conservation and consumption in a country so torn by drought and strife. Lowman hopes the Orthodox Church and the people of Ethiopia will find new solutions that are mutually beneficial to the people and the forests.
For more information, visit Tree Foundation, which sponsors workshops to help preserve the church forests.
News Source: Huffington Post
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