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Eucalyptus Plantations in Thailand - Reungchai Pousajja

Royal Forest Department (RFD), Thailand


Eucalypts have been grown in Thailand for 100 years, but only after 1970 on plantation scale. Eucalypt advantages are: easy grown, good survival, tolerant to various climates and soil types; no proven negative effects on soil, environment, human and wildlife; positive support to farm income; withstands long dry seasons, pathogen resistant; has wide domestic and industrial use. Domestic energy supply remains a major problem; 82% of population use wood (40 mill. tons) and charcoal (3 mill. tons) annually - a serious cause of natural forest degrade. Pulpwood is a major market; important other markets are scaffolding and piling. Ecological concern peaked in 1986-89, fading in 1990, these emphasized possible damage to water supplies and soil qualities and adverse impact on wildlife. Plantation studies in differing tree crop ages showed: no significant difference in soil texture; in 13 chemical properties including total acidity, organic matter and cation exchange the study showed similar result; a trend of increasing organic matter was noted. Credible discussion (June 1987) concluded there was no convincing evidence of eucalypt ill effect on soils, water and wildlife, but further studies were needed on environment impact. Farmer experience echoes this in fish pond plantings, rice field cultivation and cash intercropping; eucalypt productivity increases with compatible intercrops. Honey and edible fungi production is an increasing food crop combination with eucalypts. Eucalypt farming competes with agricultural crops, is highly acceptable to farmers, is considered as replacement for crops, e.g. cassava. The farmer community is capable of value judgment in eucalypt planting which is showing a marked upturn.

Key words: Eucalyptus camaldulensis, Thailand, fuel, charcoal, plantations, environment, wildlife, tree farming, agroforestry, honey, edible fungi.


General background

Thailand is bordered by Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia. Total area is 513, 115 km2 (51.31 million ha) and population 55 million. Forest land covers an area of approximately 134,970 km2 or 26.6% of the total area (1992). Dry conditions prevail although it receives a substantial amount of rainfall. The mean annual rainfall varies between 1,000-2,500 mm depending on the regions. The mean temperature does not vary greatly, approximately from 25-30oC but the extreme minimum-maximum may vary from 0-44oC.

The forest can be divided into two broad categories which again may be sub divided into several forest types:

Evergreen Forests: Tropical Evergreen Forest, Dry Evergreen Forest and Coniferous Forest, Swamp Forest and Beach Forest.

Deciduous Forests: Mixed Deciduous Forest, Dry Deciduous Dipterocarp Forest and Savanna Forest.

The introduction of Eucalyptus into Thailand

Exactly when eucalypts were introduced to Thailand is not clearly recorded. The memories of Sathean Gost, a senior and famous author of Thailand, mentions that when he moved to his new residence near the corner of Chareong Krung and Suravong road in 1905, he saw some unfamiliar tall trees, with smooth and reddish bark, thick and long narrow leaves with a strong smell. They were exotic trees and known later as Eucalyptus. He assumed that these trees were introduced by foreigners who lived in that region around 1900-03.

In forestry circles, it was recorded by Professor Dr. Saard Boonkird that Mr. Sukum Therawat, a forester from Silviculture Division, Royal Forest Department (RFD), after a short training course in Australia in 1941 brought some eucalypt seed. The seed, however, showed a very low germination rate, and only a few seedlings of Eucalyptus citriodora were planted in the field at Huey-Rai-Kao plung plantation. CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization), Canberra, Australia, record seed of a number of species were sent for experimental purposes in 1946. There is no further record of these seed lots.

In 1952, Mr. Sukum Therawat and Mr. Chao Jumreongsri of the RFD received scholar-ships for training courses on eucalypts in Australia. Mr. Sukum reported details of 25 species eucalypts that might be suitable for Thailand, including E. camaldulensis. Both of them also brought seed of various eucalypts, i.e. E. citriodora, E. deglupta, E. robusta, E. globulus, E. grandis, E. saligna, etc. The seedlings were planted at Doi Suthep and Mae Tang in Chiengmai Province.

The Royal Forest Department and UNDP/FAO (United Nations Development Project) cooperated on a survey of raw materials for a pulp and paper project in 1965-69. Eucalyptus species trials were set up at four research stations in various parts of the country, to explore future potential in producing raw material for pulp-paper mills. These test locations were: Baw Kaew, Chiengmai Province in the North; Huey Tha, Srisaket Province in the northeast; Lum Pao-Lum Sai, Kanjanaburi Province in the central and Huey Mud, Suratthanee Province in the south.

In 1969 cooperation between the RFD and DANIDA (Danish International Development Agency) extended technical cooperation from the Teak Improvement Project to include research on species suitable for pulp in the Pine and Fast growing Species Improvement Project. Experiments on eucalypts were expanded intensively in many aspects and sites in species, provenances trials for both high and low land, ex situ gene conservation, progeny testing and seed production areas, etc. From these trials, surplus seedlings were distributed to villagers who wished to plant trees in their own land. Due to the high survival and growth rate of eucalypt it became more and more popular with the public. In 1974-76 UNDP/FAO sponsored the Mae Sa Integrated Watershed and Forest Land Use Project. Several eucalypt species were tested for fuelwood production and watershed conservation on steep terrain in the north and for village woodlots in the north east.

The RFD and state enterprises, i.e. Forest Industry Organization (FIO), started eucalypt plantations 1976-77. Later, farmers and private enterprises began to paid attention to growing eucalypts for economic purposes and some imported seed directly from abroad for their industrial plantations. UNDP/FAO sponsored the Mae Sa Integrated Watershed and Forest Land Use Project in 1974-76. Several eucalypt species were tested for fuelwood production and watershed conservation on steep terrain in the north and for village woodlots in the north east. In 1985 cooperation was initiated between RFD and ACIAR (Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research) on research and improvement of fast growing trees, mainly Acacia and Eucalyptus species and provenances; trials were established. It is expected that some new species of fast growing trees will be identified and added to the Forest Tree Farm Programme in the near future.

Meanwhile, controversies on the negative effects of eucalypts to the environment emerged increasingly, mainly from the environmental protection groups. To deal with this problem, a number of meetings and seminars between the Pro and Con groups were held and issues discussed.


General status

Although many species of eucalypts were introduced into Thailand, only a few species and provenances show promising survival and growth. E. camaldulensis seems to be the first choice, as far as survival and growth rate is concerned. It is adaptable to saline soils in the north eastern Thailand, and tolerates a variety of climatic conditions. Other species which are well adapted include E. brassiana, E. citriodora, E. deglupta, E. grandis, E. paniculata, E. resinifera, E. saligna, E. tereticornis, E. urophylla and E. cloeziana.

Observations on many stands show that there is considerable variation in their performance. These variations are most likely a result of the use of wrong seed sources, i.e. seed from unsuitable provenances or from undesirable mother trees or due to inbreeding effects. Seed stands or seed production areas of eucalypt have been considered and were established by cooperation between state and private sectors. The seed from qualified land race mother trees of E. camaldulensis in Thailand and of sources in Australia are used, but the seed stands are still young, and only small amounts of seed can be harvested presently.

Eucalypt plantations

Eucalypt has been introduced for many decades as decorative trees and for experimental purposes. But at the plantation scale, cultivation started less than two decades ago (1976-77) by state and state enterprise's (FIO) plantation units in the northeast region, Khon Kaen and Kalasin Provinces. A few years later this was followed by farmers and the private sector.

Recently, eucalypt planting has increased quite substantially both by state and the private sectors. This may due to these facts. Eucalypts are relatively easy to establish, provided they are given the right start, and the right species are used at the right site. Survival and growth rate is good. Species are able to tolerate various climatic conditions, including infertile soils. Eucalypt seed or planting material is becoming more readily available. The long experience of growing eucalypts has shown no proof of a negative effect on soils, environment, human and wild life. The controversies on the negative effects of eucalypts are gradually fading out due to provable facts. It is now quite accepted by the public that eucalypt plantations can improve the farmer's income and raise their living standards.

The first census on eucalypt plantations by the RFD in 1987, although not complete, showed that the total area of eucalypt plantations of sate and private sectors was about 94,198 ha. The private plantations were slightly less than the state plantations (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Summary of eucalypt plantation areas (ha) in Thailand by Regions, 1987





























The second census is expected to be undertaken in a few years. Meanwhile during this period the annual increase of eucalypt plantations is approximately 16,000-17,000 ha. Based on this, the present area of eucalypt plantations by State and private sectors amounts to 192,000 ha. Most of the eucalypt plantations are located in the North east, Central and North Regions. Some major Provinces are: Northeast - Udonthanee, Khon Kaen, Nakornrachasima, Burirum, Surin, Srisaket, and Ubonrachathanee; Central - Chacheongchoa, Projinburi, Rayong, Cholburi, Rachaburi, and Kanjanaburi; North - Tak, Kampangpet, and Nakornsawan.

Farmers (small scale) growing eucalypt trees on their own farm land normally have less than 50 rai; large scale private enterprises or companies plant 160-1,600 ha or more. Some of this land is individual title land, but quite a number of growers are found on degraded reserved forest land which has been leased from the RFD. Some private companies may also own wood chip or pulp and paper mills and may thus become major outlets for the wood production from tree farms. At present contract forest tree farming system is a popular practice; it is widely accepted by forest tree farmers as well as private companies. The principles of the system are: farmers grow eucalypt trees in their own land; the company provides technical know how, good quality seedlings or some subsidies to the farmers; the company will undertake to buy all the farmers' wood production at a minimum price guarantee; state officers (RFD) will be coordinators between farmers and the companies and sometimes assist in obtaining soft loans for farmers.


Energy and fuel

Like many other developing countries in Asia and the Pacific Region, Thailand is facing a problem of energy shortage, especially at household level. Recent statistics show that household cooking energy consumption is still in the form of traditional energy, mainly fuelwood and charcoal (82%). Only 18% was in the form of modern commercial fuel, consisting of gas (15%) and electricity (3%).

The annual demand for fuelwood and charcoal is enormous, approximately 40 million tons of fuel wood and 3 million tons of charcoal. This may become the major cause of final depletion of the natural forest in Thailand. Therefore, the primary utilization of fast growing trees, in particular eucalypt, will be fuel wood and charcoal. This concept was given an added boost in 1981, when the RFD and National Energy Authority jointly promoted community reforestation at the village level, aimed at producing fuelwood and charcoal for villagers' use in the future.

Pulp and paper

The second market for eucalypt planting raw material for the wood chip, pulp paper industry. It is expected total demand for paper in 1994 may reach 1.6 million tons or a per capita consumption of pulp and paper of 26 kg/yr. The pulp and paper industry has an important role, both for economic development and for generation of more job opportunities for the labor force. At present there are five eucalypt wood chip factories: one in the northeast (Surin Province), two at the central (Chacheongchoa Province) and two in the southeast (Cholburi Province). The major markets for these five wood chip factories are Japan and Taiwan. There are two pulp and paper mills, mainly using eucalypt as the raw material, one at Khon Kaen Province (Phoenix Pulp Co.) and the other at Kanjanaburi Province (Siam Kraft).

Due to the high price of short fibre pulp in the world a shortage of pulp in Thailand has occurred. Potential foreign investors have shown interest in investing in pulp production, by themselves or in joint ventures with State enterprise (FIO) or local private companies. Numerous tracts of land have already been used for eucalypt plantation and output will be used for new pulp and paper mills.

Piling and poles

Piling and pole demand is another big market for eucalypt in Thailand. The price of piling and poles is high compared to wood chip logs (1,500:850 baht/ton). As concrete piling poles are expensive and Casuarina piling and poles have become scarce, the demand for eucalypt is steadily increasing. Farmers may now earn a high income from their eucalypt wood production. The income of a private company at Chacheongchoa Province for wholesale marketing of various sizes of eucalypt piling and poles is approximately 300,000 baht/day.

Furniture and housing

Wood of E. camaldulensis commonly breaks, twists or bends - especially small sized wood. At a certain log size with special techniques, eucalypt wood may be used for various types of furniture, log cabin and house construction. One furniture shop in Srisaket Province has won "The Outstanding Eucalyptus Furniture Product award" in the furniture contest at Suan Aumpore, Bangkok, in 1991. The Rachaburi RFD research station built a visitors eucalypt log cabin in 1988 and furnished it with eucalypt furniture; it remains in good condition.

It was a great honour for the Royal Forest Department, the Royal Irrigation Department and many other Royal Service Units to be given the opportunity of constructing a Eucalyptus House at Phnpink Royal Palace, Chiengmai Province for Her Majesty Queen Sirikit in early 1992. Another Eucalyptus House near was constructed for the Royal Crown Prince in early 1993. These two eucalypt houses are mainly furnished with eucalypt furniture.

This is a very important step in initiating the development of a new attitude by Thai people towards eucalypt, similar to the use of native valuable trees as teak, pradu, dang and maka, etc. These species are now considered as the endangered and rare in quantity in the natural forest. It is most essential therefore to conserve and save these valuable native timber species by substituting them with the fast growing trees, or eucalypt trees, from man made plantations.


There are many important oils and elements in eucalypt leaves. It has a high potential for oil extraction for pharmaceutical purposes, or for the substitution of substances of CFC (chlorofluoro carbons) which may do no harm to the ozone in the higher atmosphere. This will reduce a possible green house effect.


Another potential of eucalypt leaves is for dying silk and cotton yarns. The desired colour may be obtained by simply adding certain elements, i.e. Fe, Mn, etc. Wool dying has been effectively practiced in Australia. In Thailand, some studies on such dying have been carried out by the technical officers of the RFD, and have shown successful results; mass application of such dying needs further studies.


Eucalyptus is insect pollinated and it flowers almost all year round or over a relatively long period hence it is a source of nectar and pollen for bees. E. camaldulensis, the most popular species in Thailand, is especially found suitable for in supporting bees for honey production. Farmers are hiving bees in their eucalypt plantations.

Edible mushrooms

The root system of eucalypt tree is well associated with mycorrhiza. Some of these my-corrhiza encourage the growth rate of eucalypts and they can also produce edible mushrooms. Eucalypt plantations with correct mycorrhiza, natural or inoculated, will produce edible mushrooms, an extra source of income for the farmers, of more than 6,250 baht/ha annually.


Eucalypt farming is considered by a number of sources as a remedy against deforestation and saving valuable native species in the natural forest. Some fear that eucalypt cultivation may have adverse repercussions on the ecology and environment in the long term as drying up springs or soaking up underground water, changing structurally fragile tropical soils and impacting wild life, insects and animals.

Controversies on the effects of eucalypts came to a peak in 1986-89. Various technical papers, and reports from pros and cons were published. Many articles were issued in news-papers, on radio and television. A USAID (United State Agency for International Development) publication reported a study by instructors of Khon Kaen University "Impact of Eucalyptus Plantation on Soil Properties and Subsequent Cropping in Northeast Thailand". The study found that: at two levels of soil depth in 15 eucalypt plantations in the northeast for three ages classes, (3, 3-5, <5), no statistical different effect on physical properties of soil texture - between, within, or outside eucalypt plantations. The study analyzed 13 chemical properties, e.g. total acidity; increasing of organic matter; cation exchange capacity (CEC), etc. from the two depth levels inside and outside the eucalypt plantations. These also showed no significant statistical differences. The study did notice that the organic matter in eucalypt plantations tended to be increasing.

To resolve the controversies effectively, a number of Joint meetings or seminars between pros and cons groups were held. One of the most influential seminars was held at Rama Garden Hotel on 19-21 June 1987, a joint arrangement of four organizations: the Royal Forest Department, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives; the Agricultural Science Association of Thailand, Under Royal Patronage; the Soils and Fertilizers Association of Thailand; and the Society of Agricultural Technology Promotion of Thailand. More than 200 pros and cons delegates participated in the seminar, "Is It True about the Ill Effects of Eucalyptus Trees?". The three day seminar consisted of invited speakers and lecturers, panel discussions, a study tour to eucalypt plantation sites and subgroup discussions. The conclusion was that there was still no convincing evidence of ill effects of eucalypt plantations on soils, water and wildlife. However, with regard to large scale use of monoculture plantations, further studies are needed on their impact on environment.

Since 1990, results of farmers' experiences have gradually supported facts of effects of eucalypt plantations claimed by the pros groups. For instance, eucalypt trees planted around farmers' fish ponds do not harm fish with regard to both quality and quantity. Also, these eucalypt trees provide additional income of 20-30,000 baht/pond to the farmers. The same situation also applies to farmers growing eucalypt trees in rice fields. Farmers are also successful in agroforestry systems growing eucalypts with other cash crops, such as corn, chili, groundnut, upland rice, red okra, castor bean, etc., cultivating these crops between the rows of eucalypts. In fact, it has been found that eucalypt wood productivity per rai increases if a proper combination of crops are grown along with eucalypt trees. This reduces weeds and weeding is one of the biggest problems in eucalypt plantations. To avoid the risk of damage from wild fire caused by dry weeds in eucalypt plantations in the dry season, farmers have otherwise to pay big amounts of money for labour to keep the plantation clean of weeds.


Figure 2. The potential average annual income of some major cash crops and eucalypt


Net Income (baht/ha/year)



Sugar cane








Eucalypt is a fast growing hardwood which can be harvested in as little as 4-5 years; it thrives on barren soil and few pests bother it. For quick returns, few trees can top eucalypts. Even cash crops find it hard to compete with eucalypts. The comparison of potential average annual incomes of some major cash crops and eucalypts is shown in Figure 2.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives in 1987 set up a Study Working Group on the economic, social and environmental aspects of eucalypt plantation compared to planting cassava, one of the most popular cash crops. The Working Group consisted of concerned departments and organizations, such as Royal Forest Department; Forestry Faculty of Kasetsart University; Land Development Department; Department of Agriculture Extension; Department of Agriculture and Office of Agricultural Economics. The summarized report of the Working Group to the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives was that eucalypt provided fewer ill effects to soil fertility and environment, but higher average annual income compared to cassava.

Thailand has been considered an agricultural country for centuries, but farmers seem to become poorer and poorer. This may be due to many factors. Some major factors are: 1) long dry period: In many locations, there is insufficient rain for cash crops over more than 2-3 years. Therefore, farmers can grow nothing in their farms; 2) long interval of dry period: There may be rain in the early stage, but after farmers have sown their seed, no more falls for some months; seed or seedlings dry out;. 3) pests and disease problems: can lead farmers to both higher expenses to control the pests and diseases in their farms and higher risks to their health due to close contact with insecticides and fungicides; 4) low price of agricultural produce: This is low due to over supply in comparison to the demand of both local and world market. Thus the farmers have low incomes and living standards.

It has been recently proven, and widely accepted, that forest tree farming is another option to solve the above problems, and especially eucalypt plantations may efficiently remedy these adverse conditions. Neither the long dry period nor the long interval of dry periods do much harm to eucalypt plantations. Eucalypt is not only tolerant to the dry climates, but also withstands pests and diseases. Experience in Thailand shows that pests and diseases do only mild damage to the eucalypt plantations. The most essential aspect is that eucalypt wood is widely utilized by Thai people in: fuelwood, charcoal, piling and pole, particle board, cement board, hard board, furniture, log cabin, house construction, etc. Therefore, the unit price of eucalypt wood is steadily increasing every year. In the past few years, the price of eucalypt log for woodchip increased from 450 baht/ton to 550, 650, 750 and 850 baht/ton and tends to move to higher levels in the near future. The price of eucalypt log use as piling and pole may increase to 1,500-1,600 baht/ton. For large eucalypt trees (10 years old) which are good for lumber, furniture and house construction, a price of more than 2-3,000 baht/ton may be expected.

The over supply of cash crops such as rice, cassava, etc. may be solved by reducing their annual yield. However, to reach such goals, the Government has to promote other options for the farmers, to compensate sufficiently for the reduction of income from lower crop yield. The Government is arranging in 1994 of a budget to provide soft loan as an incentive to farmers who wish to turn their cassava fields to eucalypt plantations. At present, the eucalypt plantation concept is well accepted by farmers. This may be physically observed when travelling in the countryside; scenes of scattered eucalypt plantations are quite common. In many rural communities, eucalypt has often became the major species in community plantations. In the records of both state and private nurseries, eucalypt and teak are the most preferred species for farmers and villagers, especially in the rural areas, eucalypt seems to be the most popular species that farmers ask for.


General policy on reforestation

As late as 1950 some two thirds of Thailand was covered by natural forest. In the past few decades, the country lost its tropical forest at the third fastest rate in Asia. Now less than a fourth is believed to be covered by natural forest. This is due to many factors, such as: 1) rapid population growth rate; 2) increasing demand for agricultural land and wood supply; 3) improper attitudes on forest and forest management; and 4) the rate of reforestation by the Government. The total area reforested by the Government amounts to 500,000 ha in the last 70-80 years, and this is far behind the rate of deforestation, much of which is attributed to forest land encroachment at the rate of 3 million rai annually.

It was decided that the private sector and farmers become involved, and play essential roles in the National Forest Development Programme. The Cabinet approved such a policy in 1986 and set up the National Forest Policy Committee to be responsible for these activities. In response to the policy, the Royal Forest Department also established a new office, known as, "Office of Private Reforestation and Extension" to work closely with the private sector and farmers. The major activities are as follows:

Broad marketing is essential to encourage farmers to pay more attention to fast growing exotic trees as Eucalyptus and Acacia. To stimulate marketing export tax for log and woodchip has been reduced from 40% to 0% (1988). In other facilitating actions to assist the private sector and farmers in their reforestation investments, the Government has issued the Forest Plantation Act in 1992 to simplify complicated implementation, and difficult problems in other forest laws.

Recently, the Government has set up four big reforestation projects:

Policy on eucalypt plantations

Eucalypts can be grown in almost all types of soil including of low fertility say in, exhausted mines, deforested infertile areas acid soil areas and soil unsuitable for cultivation with cash crops and fruit trees. The Government has carried out a land classification. Fertile soil will be allocated for cash crops and fruit trees. Infertile soils unsuitable for cultivation will be classified as forest tree farm areas. Eucalypts will have the high priority in the following lands:

Rain fed highlands: These areas are highly dependent on regular and sufficient rain and are considered a high risk for crops.

The huge saline areas in the Northeast: At present about 2.8 million ha in the North east are considered saline areas and another 3.2 millions ha are classified as of high potential to become saline areas as farmers continue to grow cash crops on them.

The cassava fields are another target area for transfer to eucalypt plantations: In 1994, the Government will provide soft loans of 17,800 baht/ha with 5% interest rate to farmers who willingly turn their cassava fields (56,000 ha) to fast growing tree (eucalypt) plantation.


Eucalypt plantations are expanding rapidly and widely in Thailand. This has caused concern in technocrat NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) who fear eucalypt plantations may adversely affect the ecology, economy, society and environment, for example:

The RFD has made research on the above matters and compiled results of the impact of eucalypt plantations on ecosystems. A research station at Huey Tha, Srisaket, has continuously carried out experiments on agroforestry comparing eucalypt trees with other fast growing species for almost 15 years, or the third rotation of eucalypts. There is no significant difference in the impact on ecosystems and the environment by eucalypts compared to other fast growing species.

The most confusing problem was, that NGOs tried to combine the effects of eucalypt plantations, with the utilization of degraded forest reserve lands. If eucalypt plantations were established, there would be no degraded forest land left over for them to earn their living. Therefore some misunderstanding occurred with farmers or villagers who were fighting hard against eucalypt plantation, and claiming pieces of degraded forest land to earn their living from.

The Government has made it very clear that the state plantations will be undertaken only in the degraded conservation areas, i.e. national parks, wildlife conservation and watershed areas. The degraded forest land outside the conservation areas will be classify as an economic zone. In these, areas of fertile soil and good conditions will be allocated as farm land for villagers. The infertile soil and dry areas, unsuitable for ordinary farming, will be used for forest tree farming purposes.

Farmers have learnt from their own experience of the effect of eucalypt plantations and their advantages and disadvantages; the effects on the ecology system; the environment and the economic aspects. Farmers now can decide themselves, one way or another, about eucalypt cultivation. There is no firm answer or firm guideline that farming of eucalypt trees is a proper or an improper practice. It depends on specific cases, each condition, each location, on studies and on his individual decision.

It is a good sign that at present many leaders of the cons groups are paying more attention to finding facts in these matters, by visiting farmer's eucalypt plantations, exchanging views and experiences and in discussions with farmers. These leaders have discovered sufficient facts on effects of eucalypt plantation and as a result, the controversies in the matter are gradually fading out.

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