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Ethiopians Plant 350 Million Trees As Part Of 'Green Legacy' Program

Jul 31, 2019
Originally published on July 31, 2019 11:49 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Away from the noise of presidential debates, a lot of things are happening in the world, including this - on Monday, Ethiopians planted more than 350 million trees; 350 million trees planted in a single day. The government says this effort set a world record. The goal was to fight climate change and deforestation, but in a country full of political turmoil, the exercise became a display of national unity. Here's NPR's Eyder Peralta.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing) Ethiopia.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: For weeks now, Ethiopia's state TV has been running these ads. They show two little girls working together to plant seedlings.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing) Ethiopia.

PERALTA: Those who plant trees plant hope for the future, was the message, and it promoted an effort to break a world record and plant 200 million seedlings in one day. Twenty-five-year-old Feben Tamrat says she had been watching these ads and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed plant trees with every visiting head of state, and that moved her.

FEBEN TAMRAT: I was very sure that I don't want to miss out, and I want to put my legacy as well on the ground.

PERALTA: On Monday, along with thousands of Ethiopians, she went out in the rain. State TV showed the military delivering thousands of baby trees and Ethiopians of all stripes using bare hands to gently cover new roots with dirt. Feben planted her tree in a median near the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa. She says this was definitely about climate change and deforestation. A century ago, for example, about a third of Ethiopia was forest, but that is now down to just 4%. This is an effort to make Ethiopia greener. But to Feben, it was also a moment of national healing.

TAMRAT: Besides planting trees, besides coming together to do something good for our country, it was a national unity. Everywhere, everyone was doing it - starting from very young age to the older age.

PERALTA: Over the past year, Prime Minister Abiy has ushered in an era of historic democratization, but the country has also faced sharp divisions along ethnic lines. Violence has erupted, and millions of Ethiopians have been displaced. But this planting brought people together from across this diverse country of 100 million people. To Feben, it sent a message to the world that change is possible, but it was also a lesson to Ethiopians.

TAMRAT: This showed us how much we can be strong when we come together and when we put our heads together to do something.

PERALTA: But now that the planting is done, the hard part begins - keeping seedlings full of hope alive. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi.

(SOUNDBITE OF EVIL NEEDLE'S "VIBIN'") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.