Connectivity: Poverty and Deforestation

Dr. Matthew Sleeth can describe in detailed anatomical terms the truth behind the silly children’s song, “the foot bone is connected to the leg bone, and the leg bone is connected to the hip bone.” Through this song, we learned that there is connectivity at work within us, and when one bone is out of alignment it begins to impact other parts of our body.

The connectivity experience isn’t limited to our physical bodies. One of the messages of scripture that is often missed is the interaction between human well-being and environment health, and this overlooked connection is painfully felt in many impoverished nations today. Simply put, it has become increasingly clear that extreme poverty follows the collapse of small plot farming, which is connected to radical deforestation. Therefore, in so many cases the real bone of contention behind the spread of extreme poverty is deforestation. The good news is there is a cure to “deforestation-related extreme poverty” and that cure is “reforestation.”

In September 2004, I was requested by President Haile Marium of the Southern Peoples Region of Ethiopia to take over an abandoned seedling nursery that was associated with a desperately needed reforestation project. The President reported that villages near Hawassa had experienced loss of life from flooding, serous erosion, soil degradation, and declining water tables. All of these symptoms were connected to destruction of the region’s forest. The diagnosis was tragic; if things didn’t improve, the villagers would become eco-refugees. So, the challenge was accepted and Eden Reforestation Projects (ERP) was born, and in the last six years over 22 million new trees have been planted in Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Haiti.

Today, the flooding around the reforestation sites in Ethiopia has stopped. The soil quality has been enhanced, the farming has greatly improved, the water tables are rising, and the animal life is returning to a restored eco-system. All of this dramatic ecological healing is the result of employing over 3,000 Ethiopian “eco-workers” who desperately needed a job.

At the individual level, in 2006 Nigatu Yote was a destitute single mother, but today, Nigatu is employed full time with Eden. This job allows her to provide her three children with good food, quality medical care, and an education. And, Nigatu is just one of the thousands of full and part-time female employees who are seeing their families and local environment transformed. The two are connected.

The cure of “poverty reduction through environmental stewardship” is exciting and the church is beginning to be a major distributor of the treatment. The bottom line is, the connection extends across the seas where $10 will plant a minimum of 100 trees even as it provides a full days wage to mothers like Nigatu. The connection and cure are now clear. The escape from poverty is connected to the reforestation cure.

Following 31 years in front line pastoral leadership Steve Fitch transitioned careers to begin serving as founder and President of Eden Reforestation Projects. Steve and Claudette have been married for 29 years and have three adult children, Danielle Gudgel, Josiah, and Caleb.

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