Missing the Trees for the Forest: The Socioecological Significance of Dispersed Farmland Trees in Northern Ethiopia
Date of Award
Honors Thesis (Open Access)
Colby College. Environmental Studies Program
Scattered trees are prominent features in the agricultural landscape of the Ethiopian highlands. The dry Afromontane forests of the Amhara Region in northern Ethiopia have faced centuries of deforestation - the FAO estimates only 3% of the region is forested today. The remaining landscape has been largely converted into agricultural and grazing lands, with the exception of some limited government-protected lands, as well as thousands of small forest fragments left around Orthodox Churches (“church forests”). But while a growing body of scholarship has highlighted the ecological and cultural importance of church forests and other natural forest fragments, the roles of scattered remnant trees left in actively cultivated agricultural systems remains understudied. The ecological and socio- cultural benefits of scattered trees is widely acknowledged in some human-modified landscapes, including in the context of agroforestry where such trees provide important ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, erosion control, water quality enhancement, biodiversity conservation, pollination, and topsoil enrichment, as well as numerous economic benefits including food, fodder, and fuel. This study examines the measured and perceived temporal change in scattered tree abundance in non-agroforestry systems, through Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analyses and social survey data collection in croplands in the Amhara Region. Findings from GIS analyses indicate a surprising increase in scattered tree abundance since the 1960s and ground-truthing indicates that remnant tree scattered tree species are very diverse. In social surveys, farmers also report a perceived increase in tree numbers on cropland in recent decades – with social survey responses emphasizing the considerable economic importance and perceived ecosystem services of tree species as justification for why scattered trees are retained even when they interfere with crops. The study results highlight the importance of scattered trees on farmland and suggest policy interventions for single tree-scale conservation and scattered tree restoration across northern Ethiopia.
Scattered Trees, Agroforestry, Deforestation, Church Forest, GIS, Social Survey
Recommended CitationWall, Jacob A. and Reynolds, Travis W., "Missing the Trees for the Forest: The Socioecological Significance of Dispersed Farmland Trees in Northern Ethiopia" (2016). Honors Theses. Paper 943.