By Akanimo Sampson
In the last week of July in Ethiopia, 353 million trees were planted in one day in a seeming patriotic response to their Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed’s call to break the Guinness World Record in a nationwide reforestation initiative.
The feat came as Hijrah Talk, a talk show using digital platforms to challenge misconceptions around migration, was launched on July 29 by IOM’s Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Its production aims to spread fact-based dialogue around migration across 22 Arab countries and throughout the Mediterranean region. The format consists mainly of short video interviews with experts answering questions that address popular myths surrounding migration. The goal is to help unpack some of these views, thus better understand a more realistic view of migration.
However, the Ethiopian Green Legacy project began with a goal of planting 200 million trees in one day. But, enthusiasm was so great, that target was nearly doubled. Over 50 staff from IOM Ethiopia and other United Nations colleagues participated in the planting at Gullele Botanical Garden in Addis Ababa, one of the 1,000 designated planting sites of the ambitious initiative.
The record was previously held by India for planting over 50 million trees in one day in 2016.
These 353 million saplings are part of a wider four billion tree-planting initiative currently underway in Ethiopia. Over 2.9 billion trees already have been planted since the initiative began this past May. It is part of the country’s bid to fight against lost forest resources and help mitigate climate change, and contributes to Ethiopia’s green economy strategy.
“A reforested Ethiopia is a critical mitigation measure in the face of climate change; an increasingly key driver of mobility in this region. It therefore gives us great pleasure to take part in this reforestation initiative – IOM is proud to be part of the journey towards a greener Ethiopia”, said Maureen Achieng, IOM Ethiopia’s Chief of Mission and Representative to the AU, ECA and IGAD.
IOM welcomed the invitation to participate, with volunteers embracing the task of helping to plant saplings. To ensure sustainability of the initiative, the nationwide monitoring of seedlings has been affirmed by the Ethiopian Minister of Agriculture.
Abiy’s initiative links closely with key environmental targets as laid out in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM).
Green Legacy also links with IOM’s Migration, Environment and Climate Change (MECC) programming, as climate change is known to be one of the key driving factors of forced migration in Ethiopia, where people are forced to move as their old place of residence becomes inhospitable due to the changing climate and environment. In managing environmental migration, IOM promotes the minimisation of forced and unmanaged migration as much as possible.
Established eight years ago, and with over 705 hectares of land, the Gullele Botanical garden is used for research, education, eco-tourism and conservation. Accordingly, the botanical garden hosts hundreds of what are believed to be Ethiopia’s 6,000+ plant species. With the addition of the saplings today, the garden will host many more – and an even greater variety of tree species.
In the mean time, the bi-lingual name – “Hijrah”, in Arabic (for Migration), plus “Talk” – encourages both English and Arabic speakers to watch and interact.
“We’re facing today a critical issue of trust. People are certainly less interested in the usual institutional messages”, said Leonard Doyle, IOM Head Media and Communications Division and Spokesperson.
“Trust with the audience is built when we start speaking their language, reflecting their concerns, and balancing the dialogue to bring together misconceptions and facts, misinformation and information,” he added.
“By providing the public with easy access to data pertaining to the scale, scope, and socioeconomic context of migration trends, especially on a regional scale and with a gender balanced approach, Hijrah Talk will help create a medium to demystify some of the misconceptions around migration”, said Senior Regional Liaison and Policy Officer Kristina Mejo. “This talk show was founded with the objective of bridging the gap between the populist discourse and migration research”, she added.
IOM MENA’s regional media and public information strategy focuses on public perceptions and discourse around migration in the region.
Regional Media and Public Information Officer for MENA Farah Abdul Sater explained how “in MENA, adults who live in countries with the highest unemployment rates show the most negative attitudes towards migration to their countries.
While in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, which have high percentages of temporary migrant workers, among nationals and Arab expatriates interviewed, a relatively small percentage of people want migration levels to decrease and a high share want levels to increase or stay the same.”
“Understanding such nuances between countries is important to balance the dialogue. However, optimising existing positive discourse entry points is even more important. For example, younger people globally are more likely to have an opinion about migration. They are more likely to favor increasing immigration levels. Hijrah Talk’s digital format and simple language is tailored to engage more young adults in MENA”, Abdul Sater said.
Hijrah Talk premiered on the regional office’s social media pages, including YouTube. The choice of the video format responds to global audience preferences, and the decrease of individual attention span. Six episodes will air between July and October, and each episode will be translated to Arabic, thus allowing local audiences to comment and interact.
As IOM, “Our role is not to preach to the usual public of supporters,” said Laurent de Boeck, IOM Egypt Chief of Mission. “It is rather to bring the right information to the misinformed public, and to create a constructive dialogue about migration. That’s the power of Hijrah Talk.”