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SPGS PLANTATION GUIDELINE No.

6b EUCALYPTS & THE ENVIRONMENT

alitunsi (as eucalypts are known in Uganda) bring out mixed emotions in people it seems. On the one hand, many small farmers grow them as cash crops for fuelwood and poles whilst more commercial growers are increasingly planting eucalypts since they can produce a timber (or large pole) crop more quickly than virtually any other species. Then on the other hand we hear and read claims that eucalypts are responsible for many environmental problems including excessive water use, depleting the soil of its fertility, soil erosion - even global warming! It appears to be difcult to have a balanced debate, based not on hearsay but on fact. Do they really use up so much water? and Do eucalypts degrade the land? are common questions

red at the SPGS team. Since the SPGS often recommends planting eucalypts where growers have suitable sites, we believe that we have an obligation to ensure people understand the issues better so they can make informed decisions, not ones based on rumour and ignorance. Hence this special feature on what is known in some countries as the great Eucalyptus debate. You will be glad to know that we do not need to reinvent the wheel and start decades of research to prove the point: the environmental aspects of planting eucalypts have been scientically studied in many other countries (notably South Africa, India, Brazil and Australia). Here we present a summary (in simple language) of the key issues and we hope it is a useful addition to the debate.

SPGS PLANTATION GUIDELINE NO. 6b

A landowner in western Uganda proudly showing his crop of E. grandis fuelwood ready to transport to a nearby tea estate. Without such plantations, the nearby natural forests would disappear.

Eucalypts play an important role in the rural economies of many countries - including Uganda - where they provide domestic and industrial fuelwood, building and electricity poles, and of course, timber. In some countries, eucalypt plantations supply the raw material for large scale wood-using industries: South Africa with some 525,000 hectares of eucalypts being a good example. Worldwide it is estimated that there are 15 million hectares of eucalypt plantations (ca.1.8M in Africa) - dominated by just four of the 500 or so Eucalyptus species - namely, E. grandis, E. camaldulensis, E. tereticornis and E. globulus. Eucalypts are popular with both small and commercial growers alike because of a number of attributes: they are well suited to growing in plantations; they can grow very fast if cultivated properly; they can provide a decent return on investment; they are adaptible to a wide range of sites; most species can be grown easily from seed; many species regrow (coppice) when cut; there have been huge gains made by breeding especially the mass production of hybrid clones.

Eucalypts: An Introduction

timber supply until the plantations planted over the past 5 years are ready for harvesting. These plantations are mostly pines that will not mature until around 20 years old. Only by planting fast grown eucalypts can this worrying supply gap be plugged. So...with all the current interest in growing eucalypts on both a large and small scale in Uganda, and their undoubted value to the economy, why do they continue to receive bad press from some quarters? To answer this, let us delve a bit deeper into the claims made against eucalypts and see if they could be true.

Eucalypts are a common feature in the Ugandan landscape. Many rural households (with the exception of the drier eastern parts of the country) have some eucalypt trees to provide poles and rewood. The important tea industry concentrated in the west of Uganda, relies on eucalypt plantations (nearly all E. grandis) to provide the fuelwood in order to dry the tea prior to export. Everwhere buildings are constructed using eucalypt scaffolding poles. Ugandas electricity supply company are desperate for large eucalypt poles but often have to import them from elsewhere at a great cost. Ugandas timber using businesses are increasingly using eucalypt wood too and many of the remaining big trees are being harvested to meet this demand. Thus in Uganda - as in many other countries - eucalypts are important. Clearly without them, there would be even more natural forest cut down to provide alternatives to the products described earlier. There is another important aspect too: Uganda has a timber crisis looming. When its remaining plantations have been harvested (in less than 5 years) it has a huge shortfall in 2
EUCALYPTS & THE ENVIRONMENT

Eucalypts in Uganda

E. grandis grows extremely well in the wetter parts of Uganda. This 50-year old seed stand is in Fort Portal.

SPGS PLANTATION GUIDELINE NO. 6b

Claim 1: Excessive Water Consumption


It is often claimed that eucalypts have a high water demand which leads to a reduction in downstream ow. Indeed, it is hardly surprising that they have such a reputation since they have been introduced into some countries (including Uganda) to drain swamps for malaria control. Eucalypt plantations are also used in Australia to deliberately lower water tables in areas with high salinity. In this regard, eucalypts are no different to any plants: they require water (and nutrients) to grow. Eucalypts are very efcient in terms of biomass production (requiring only one half to one third of the water used by many agricultural crops). The faster trees grow, however, the more biomass they accumulate and clearly, the more water reserves will be drawn on, no matter what species.

4. Biodiversity Loss
There are claims that eucalypt plantations - along with other exotic tree species - cause massive loss of biodiversity. This depends on what vegetation was there beforehand: clearly a monoculture does not have anything like the biodiversity of a natural rain forest but this is an unfair comparison since such plantations should not be established in such areas by clearing intact natural forests. In Uganda, plantation development is focused on degraded forest land and grassland: in this case a eucalypt plantation may well reduce further biodiversity loss.

5. Climate
Research has shown that there is nothing to distinguish eucalypts from plantations of any other tree or from different types of native forests in their effect on rainfall or on other regional climate patterns.

Where water is plentiful, this presents no problems; where it is scarce, however, Comment eucalypts will compete for available water and this Clearly there are A private farmer in Kenya proudly shows off his clonal Eucalyptus could lead to conict. double standards plantation. He is growing this as a cash crop for poles and fuelwood Careful planning should being applied here: - assisted by the Gatsby Foundation - in a area of the country desperately help alleviate any conicts commercial forestry short of woody biomass. particularly by identifying is often criticised areas where eucalypt for practices that are plantations will not compete for water with other users. standard in agriculture, whether it be planting monocultures of high yielding varieties or fertiliser application. Thus many 2. Nutrient Depletion of the criticisms levelled against eucalypts could equally apply to many other plantation crops. In common with any crop, eucalypts require nutrients to grow. Eucalypts are in fact very efcient users of available In many places where there is the most noise against planting resources (related to the often harsh environment where eucalypts, the main contributors to the local environmental they evolved in Australia) but clearly, their nutrient demand problems - namely, massive deforestation and poor farming will be high in order to sustain their very high yields when practices (compounded by global warming) - are conveniently cultivated intensively. Consequently it is normal practice overlooked. In some degraded areas, eucalypts are the only to apply fertilsers when planting eucalypts on a commercial trees that survive and thus attract the blame for all the regions scale. This practice is no different from any other intensive environmental woes. farming system.

3. Site Degredation
Eucalypts are sometimes blamed for increasing soil erosion. Again here there is no evidence to single out eucalypts for special criticism. More important than the species planted is the erodibility of the soil, and the management of the crop. On sites that might be at risk of erosion (e.g. steep slopes and sandy soils) there are management techniques that can be adopted to minimise the damage.

For those keen to point the finger of blame for droughts, global warming and poverty, eucalypts should be seen as part of the solution rather than the cause of such problems.

EUCALYPTS & THE ENVIRONMENT

SPGS PLANTATION GUIDELINE NO. 6b

Conclusions and Guidelines


Ever increasing demands are being placed on the worlds forest for both wood and nonwood products. To compensate for this, tree plantations have rapidly expanded and will continue to do so, especially in regions where growth rates can be high. Eucalypts are important plantation species in many tropical and sub-tropical countries for their ability to produce high volumes of utilisable products in a short time. In Uganda, eucalypts are valued by both small farmers and larger commercial growers and yet they have attracted criticism from some quarters mostly for their alleged impact on water, climate and soils. Considerable scientic research has been carried out on the subject in India, South Africa and Australia - all countries where eucalypts are important to the economy and the livelihoods A good illustration of the importance of eucalypt plantations in Uganda: of many. The results show that eucalypts without the fast growing Eucalyptus grandis crop (foreground), the natural are not as harmful as they have often been forest (far distance) would have to provide to fuelwood needed to sustain the portrayed but that the high water consumption wood needs of both the tea factory and the local people. associated with high biomass yields, needs to be considered, in an integrated way, with other economic, socio-economic and environmental The SPGS hopes that this publication is a useful factors. The challenge for planners and forest managers is contribution to this important debate. We would very to design sustainable systems for growing eucalpyts which much appreciate hearing your views on the subject - see minimise some of the adverse hydrological impacts whilst contact details at the bottom of this page. maximising the economic and socio-economic benets.

Suggested Practical Guidelines:


- better planning and more careful selection of sites where eucalypts can be grown with little impact on the envionment; - restrict large scale planting where rainfall is marginal for intensively grown eucalypts (<1200mm per year); - identify areas where water for the local community is more important than trees in the catchment; - consult with local people during the planning phase; - break up large blocks of trees with indigenous vegetation if possible; - no planting within 20 m of any stream; - routinely fertilise eucalypt crops to maintain the soil nutrient levels. In Uganda there is clearly a need for people to better understand the issues to enable an informed debate - at both the national and local level - to take place. We need to move away from polemics to a more rational debate of the diverse roles played by trees in the Ugandan economy and the importance of tree plantations to meet the countrys ever increasing biomass demand. The requirement of a eucalypt plantation for water and soil nutrients has to be balanced against other possible claims on those resources. Careful planning - especially involving local stakeholders - should alleviate many of the concerns.

FURTHER READING
CALDER IR (1992) Growth & Water Use of Forest Plantations. John Wiley & Sons. CALDER IR (2002) Eucalyptus, Water & The Environment. In: COPPEN J (Ed.). Eucalyptus: Industrial & Aromatic Plants - Industrial Proles Vol. 22. Taylor & Francis Ltd. DAVIDSON J (1996)* Ecological Aspects of Eucalyptus Plantations. Proc. FAO Regional Expert Consultation on Eucalyptus Vol. 1 (Asia Pacic Region); 35pp. SPGS (2007). Eucalypts & the Environment. SPGS Plantation Guideline No.22 (v.2). 12pp. POORE MED & C Fries (1985)* The Ecological Effects of Eucalyptus. FAO Forestry Paper No. 59; 87 pp. * Copies of these are available from SPGS for Ush10,000 each.

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