Ethiopia: Communism Destroyed the Forests. Churches Preserving Them

Church forest in EthiopiaIn the early 20th century, around 45% of Ethiopia was covered by forests.  Due to population pressure and encouraged by the Communist regime in power from 1974 through 1991, which nationalised the land and distributed it to people who cleared forests for subsistence farming, now only 5% of the land is forested.

When you see a forest in Ethiopia today, the odds are there’s a church in the middle of it.  The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is one of the oldest Christian churches in Sub-Saharan Africa, dating from A.D. 333, when Christianity was proclaimed the state religion.  For much of its history, the church was administered as a branch of the Coptic Church of Alexandria, Egypt, but became independent in 1959, with its own patriarch.

An article in the current issue of Nature, “Biodiversity thrives in Ethiopia’s church forests” describes how “[t]he church, to which more than half of Ethiopians belong, views the natural forest as a symbol of heaven on Earth, where every creature is a gift from God and needs its habitat” has preserved more than 35,000 forests surrounding its churches.

Ecologists studying the biodiversity in these oases are helping churches protect their forests from encroachment by the neighbouring population and their animals.  They’re building walls.

Ethiopia church forest wall


Author: John Walker

Founder of, Autodesk, Inc., and Marinchip Systems. Author of The Hacker's Diet. Creator of

3 thoughts on “Ethiopia: Communism Destroyed the Forests. Churches Preserving Them”

  1. My cousin served in the  peace corps in the sixties in  Ethiopia .He was saying that there were many black Jews there.One of the dictators were killing them and the Israelies  rescued  them.

  2. There is an Ethiopian church Mekane Yesus.   Their Archbishop spoke to the Lutheran LCMS 2013 Convention, where I was a delegate.   He said that in 2000, two years after the collapse of the Communist regime that had outlawed religion, they did a census and found 1.5 million members.   Ten years later they were over 7 million and getting close to 8 million.   Their biggest problem was not having enough pastors.

    He did not spend much time discussing life under Communism; he was more concerned with current affairs, such as church arsons in western and southern Ethiopia where there are Muslims spilling into Ethiopia from Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia.   His predecessor was martyred by the Communists.

  3. The whole Middle East and the North Coast of Africa had ten times as many trees in 500 AD.   What happened was the Ottomans.   Some sultan decided that the easy way for auditors to verify tax payments was to levy a tax on trees.   After a few hundred years, presto, no trees.


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