The Yves Rocher Foundation commissioned photojournalist Brent Stirton to visit Ethiopia and document the reforestation initiatives being led by the Foundation and the NGO Green Ethiopia
Brent Stirton was born in Cape Town in 1969. He has been a National Geographic contributor for a decade, submitting a dozen reports on animal protection and conservation issues. Ethiopia is one of the world’s poorest countries, and has lost 90% of its forestland over the last 50 years.
The Yves Rocher Foundation is working with Green Ethiopia to take direct, sustainable action by improving nutrition and living standards in rural communities through reforestation. The hills and mountains in the north of the country, and the Tigray region in particular, are the main planting zones. Initiated in 2009, this partnership has resulted in nearly 38 million trees being planted, with a total of 52 million planned.
In Ethiopia, men and women are fighting to protect the environment.
How important is the work NGOs undertake in the regions where you work?
NGOs like the Yves Rocher Foundation and Green Ethiopia make it easier for me to access these areas and environments where it would otherwise be difficult to work. They lend me their expertise and logistics, which is crucial when you’re planning a photo report. But most importantly of all, they are often the only people fighting the side effects of over-industrialisation. Without the Yves Rocher Foundation and Green Ethiopia, the Tigray region would have undoubtedly lost all of its forests, and the impact of this on the environment would have been catastrophic.
Was this your first time in Ethiopia? And was it your first time covering deforestation?
I have done a lot of work in Ethiopia in the past, primarily in the south, near the Omo Valley or on the Eritrean border. It’s a fascinating, complex country. And as for deforestation, I have documented the phenomenon in Haiti and several other African countries. If we don’t get a grip on this now, it’s a problem that may have long-term consequences on soil stability and drought.
How did you plan and prepare for this report? What was your photographic approach?
I wanted to show the paradox of the gigantic strides made by the Ethiopian economy in recent years and how this swift development has often meant forgetting to take care of the natural world. I wanted to confront this impressive new infrastructure with the people fighting on the ground to protect their trees and forests.
What sticks in your mind about this project? And what is your hope for the future of Ethiopia?
I’ll always remember the pride the members of Green Ethiopia took in their work, and the vision they had ten years ago of fighting to save the country’s vegetation. I also really like the fact that many of the women employed by this project become independent as a result.
What would you like to say to the people who will see your photos? If they only remember one thing, what do you hope that is?
The world wouldn’t be what it is without trees. They’re not just beautiful: they’re the lungs of our planet. They form a living heritage that contributes not only to preserving wild species and groundwater, but to boosting the economic stability of rural areas. We need them, and we should do everything in our power to save them.
The rebirth of Ethiopia's forests
Discover the photographic mission
of Brent Stirton in Ethiopia