What We Are Reading Today; “Useful Trees and Shrubs in Eritrea”

A Point often overlooked, trees and shrubs have provided us with most life essentials as they are a source of significant socio-economic benefits. Significantly, they both supply us shelter, medicine, and tools which contributes a lot for one’s survival. Therefore, this is why we are obliged to investigate trees and shrubs around us. Alongside its inputs in raising awareness efforts, this will also help to establish much friendlier relationship with that of the environment. Similarly, investigating the environment is the first step to equip the best knowledge on topics related to how to manage our land escape, its climatic behaviors and so do its contents as well.  Increasing the tendency to know something about the environment and its stuffing (trees and shrubs for instance)  inspires to take action on how to conserve the environment in the face of increasing eco-systemic degradations due to population growth and anthropogenic activities, which many environmental activists underscores at this moment.

In short and long run, trees and shrubs around us contribute for more improved life styles by providing foods, drugs and all kinds of other useful substances through their lumbers, fruits and nuts. This is therefore, as true as it underlines within Eritrea. Eritrean society which most often depends on trees to sustain living, (a wood to make house and fire, leaves and fruits for food  and feeding animals, and most importantly  trees fruits and nuts for more essential utilities) needed some kind of informative tools to maintain and fix environmental life cycle. According to the Encyclopedia of the Nation, Eritrean topography is approximately 4% arable land which is distributed in both the highlands, and lowlands area. An important point to discuss here is that this arable land has constantly hit by droughts, erosions, deforestation, and overgrazing, which all present a real challenge. Likewise, according to Eritrea’s ecological information, about 72% of Eritrea is classified as very hot, with mean annual temperature exceeding 24 o C, while not more than 14% is classified as mild or cool with mean annual temperature below 21.5 o C., which makes an environmental awareness and painstaking reforestation and forestation activities as a decision of life and death.

By and large, Eritrea was once host to a wide variety of fauna and flora. Nevertheless, due to colonial mismanagement the woody vegetation which once covered some 30% of the total land area of the country has been dwindled greatly in less than a century. Contemporarily, many of the spices which were existed in the country are either extinct or endangered. This is due to agricultural expansions and the imprudent land usages, overgrazing, traditional house construction, fuel wood and charcoal, and past excessive recording for timber productions.

Therefore, a bold move to save the remaining ones and to keep our country more habitable is so much advised. The first step is therefore doing deep research on the environment and its habitats. With this in mind, the vegetation of Eritrea has been described in a number of different publications, including some historical Italian-accounts, which recognized hundreds of vegetation types and provided detailed descriptions of the typical species composition and distribution of the vegetation types. Such kind of study introduces us to our natural beauty and allows us how to create mutual interdependence with the natural spices, which determine our continuity as a society. Underlining this as a background study, hitherto, effective and detailed study as to the number, type and distribution of flora has not yet been conducted due to some accepted logistical and material reasons. For example, the data and information, especially of herbs and succulent plants, which have great importance in terms incorporating sustainability and ecological restoration has not yet done to the full extent.

Respectively, some of the trees and shrubs in Eritrea have encountered extinction, or are endangered, which calls for deep interventions from all concerned actors. As a background action and accordingly instigated by Eritrean government, there was an initiative taken in 1997, aimed at identifying the existing species, their distribution, their local uses, and so did a propagation techniques. In such study some species have already been recognized as endangered in the list of 33 species as per 1997 survey. Another one, with border in scope and detailed in information, a book titled “Useful Trees and Shrubs in Eritrea” (1996), (prepared by the staff of Ministry of agriculture with the support from the Regional Soil Conservation Unit (RSCU) in Nairobi, provides useful information on endogenous as well as exotic spices in Eritrea. Co-authored by Bein E, Habte B, Jaber A, Birnie A, Tengnas B, this is an important technical handbook that pushes for further research in medical and environmental aspects. The best part of the book is, linguistically speaking, the identified trees and shrubs represented by vernacular names in nine Eritrean languages, which is a greatest contribution to linguistic and cultural information of Eritrean society. Authors of the technical research handbook in their combined strategy, strategize to improve land use and the importance of sustainable utilization of tree biodiversity, in which the descriptive, propagative, and informative methodology goes all the way to provide a detailed data about a particular tree, which is a very good start for further inquiries in related aspects.

The book covers close to 200 spices in Eritrea and indicates their vernacular names, ecology, reported uses, botanical description, seed information, and relevant management practices. It has  introductory notes on climate, solid and land use, vegetation, some environmental concerns, and future and illustrated glossary of some botanical terms. Additionally, the book has the following three parts. The first part tells about the common names of the identified useful trees and shrubs in Afar, Arabic, Bilen, Hidareb, Kunama, Nara, Saho, Tigre and Tigrinya. In the second part, the book discusses about the useful trees and shrubs. In this part, the book describes the ecology, uses, description, propagation, seed, treatment, storage and managerial remarks of a particular spice. The third part is all about summary table of species and their uses, in wood, food, fodder, environmental and other uses. All in all, such a study was carried out to assess and document ethnobotanical knowledge of shrubs and trees in Eritrea which are used for medicinal, timber, fuel wood, fodder, ornamental, agricultural tools, fencing, and fruit yielding purposes.

This is a worth referring hand book in issues related to how to increase our environmental awareness and our responsibility as citizens. At state level, there are activities which have been carried away in issues related to creating favorable conditions for vegetation recovery, developing pastoral reserves for the growing livestock numbers and woody biomass for local people, protecting endangered tree and wildlife species from extinction, protecting soil erosion and others. By a large, a hand book like this will also help us a lot building out a strong sense of responsibility in relation to the environment and its contents as our possessions.


Amanuel Zekarias

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