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The Role of Eucalyptus - Current Problems in Thailand - Suthenun Pruchapruth

Sanamchai City Co Ltd, Thailand


Eucalyptus camaldulensis outperforms other species regardless of origin, in Thailand however large scale plantings did not occur in earlier times. This was a result of ample available natural forest timber and the priority replanting species - valuable teak - was well known. Eucalypt culture and its insect and other pathogens were largely unknown, and its wood quality was considered inferior. Thailand agricultural systems depend on rain fed and irrigated crops; this is impacted by poor soil and annual drought; dams are a common feature but these need accompanying rain protection forests, i.e. associated replanting schemes. Tree planting is commended on non intensively farmed areas to assist water supply; these may be spaced to allow fodder production etc. Local species planting on degraded land is highly inappropriate and of high risk due to: drought, insect pests and low soil fertility. Eucalypts will provide wood, fuel-wood and charcoal, edible fungi and solve immediate problems. Eucalypts can shelter for re-establishment of natural forest; care is needed in choice of species, spacing, thinning, coppice management, and in fostering lumber tree development. Villagers are keen to plant trees but need assistance in start up advice for simple beginning - in this eucalypt is best. A eucalypt experimental/educational centre has been established.

Key words: Eucalyptus camaldulensis, plantations, watershed protection, social forestry, edible fungi.


In olden days, Thai people usually distinguished exotic plants or animals species by putting the descriptive word "Thes" to these introduced species, which means foreign. Later on when so many exotic plants and animals were increasingly introduced to Thailand they were taken for granted and anyone could call these introduced species as one would like. This practice is generally accepted for those introduced species which are usually larger in size than local species. However, in some cases the naming of exotic species is based on dubious reasons for the introduction. The most widely talked about introduced species from Australia, with both positive and negative aspects, are "plastic cattle" and Eucalyptus. Only the latter, i.e. Eucalyptus is discussed.


Mr. Sukhum Thiyawat, former Chief of Silviculture Division and Mr. Chao Chomreongsri, former Chief of Forest Improvement Section, Silviculture Division, Royal Forest Department were present as delegates to the First World Eucalyptus Conference in Australia, September-October 1952. This conference was organized by FAO, realizing that many of the 600 eucalypt species were widely introduced to countries around the world without detailed knowledge and experience of their Australian conditions. For this reason FAO organized the First World Eucalyptus Conference in 1952, and it was followed by the Second World Eucalyptus Conference in 1956 in Rome. Mr. Sukhum Thirawat presented a paper on eucalypt species suitable for tropical zones to the Second Conference. He described five species introduced for countrywide Thai trial planting. These were E. alba, E. camaldulensis, E. citriodora, E. decaisneana and E. deglupta. In addition, 20 other species were introduced for trials. Four species were particularly designated to trial sites in the northern region; E. hemiphloia, E. multiflora, E. rudis and E. saligna. Five species were designated for the central region; E. microtheca, E. miniata, E. racemosa, E. tetrodonta, E. umbellata and eleven species were tested in the east; E. cloeziana, E. grandis, E. phaeotriaha, E. resinifera, E. siderophloia, E. torelliana, E. maculata, E. microcorys, E. pilularis, E. propinqua and E. punctata.

From these trials, it was quite clear the E. camaldulensis can be grown well in all regions and locations in Thailand. Furthermore, the results indicated that E. camaldulensis outperformed almost all other tree species regardless of their origin, local or exotic.


In earlier times, most foresters did not see any reason to promote the planting of eucalypts. This was due to circumstances of that time when natural forest was still plentiful; there was an adequate supply of timber from this forest. It was held that teak should be the priority species for plantation establishment for future timber supply. This was mainly because teak is local species highly suitable for local conditions and teak is also fast growing during its initial establishment. Furthermore, the wood quality of teak is better than any other species including eucalypt. It was thought that the long term planting of eucalypt was a high risk activity due to unknown conditions of insects and other pathogens which might reduce the value of eucalypt plantations. In addition, fire represented a major risk to eucalypt plantations as eucalypt is highly flammable and possessed no fire resistant characteristics. Also, generally speaking the wood quality of eucalypt is considered inferior when compared with other local species such as teak, Hopea, Pterocarpus or Dipterocarp species.

The most serious mistake was the assessment that "Thailand has no need to plant eucalypt for timber production". It is clear now, after 41 years of this view, Thailand urgently needs plantations to supply wood demand. Natural forest resources in all regions of Thailand have been over exploited. The forests that were the source of teak, Hopea, Pterocarpus and Dipterocarpus, species have all disappeared.

Mr. Thirawat's report, "The North-Eastern Region of Thailand", published in the Bangkok Post newspaper, 19 November to 3 December 1955, recorded that the natural forest area in the region still covered 102,667 km2 or 34% of the total forest area of Thailand. At that time, the northeastern region could provide an adequate supply of hardwood. The situation now is that there is no natural forest resource in the northeast to supply that hardwood anymore. Thirawat was transferred to another position and retired in 1959. He had no opportunity to follow the development and results of the eucalypt trials. He knew vaguely that the only eucalypt which could grow well in all trial sites was E. camaldulensis. A document of the Watershed Management Division of RFD in 1990 "Eucalypt: Economical Tree Species for Present and Future" stated that "1965 was the first year E. camaldulensis from Australia was introduced for plantation establishment in Thailand."

The events above are probably the major causes that hindered the wide spread planting of eucalypt. During the past decade however, when trees and forests were steadily disappearing, tree planting and forest plantation establishment has received more attention. People were looking at various tree species of interest to satisfy their requirement; once more, eucalypt drew attention but its ultra fast growth performance caused alarm to many. It was closely watched with concern which developed into partial rejection of the species with a round the clock public campaign to discredit it. Farmers and rural people began to doubt and to hesitate the planting of eucalypt; they wondered how Thailand would deal with eucalypt. This not-so-expensive lesson slowed down the eucalypt planting. However, one cannot estimate the actual cost of this lost opportunity for not planting caused by the "national hysteria" on eucalypt.


Agricultural land can be divided into two categories: irrigated agriculture land and rainfed one. Nowadays, lower and lower levels of water stored behind big dams cause major worries to all concerned. Restrictions on paddy rice planting in irrigated agricultural areas are under consideration. Other problems loom over rainfed agricultural areas with bad soil and annual drought. These are really formidable problems. Rain is scarce and more scarce year by year. Other precipitation also disappears, together with the birds. Denuded mountains crop up here and there with little remaining moisture. It can be said that Thailand now has only two seasons: the hot season and the dry season. From these circumstances, various efforts are put forward to build more dams, without knowing where the water would come from to fill them.

At this point, the opinion is strongly expressed, that whenever anyone sits down to draw a plan for dam construction, should also include a reforestation project for that plan. If it costs 1,000 million baht to build a dam, then a budget of 1,000 million baht must be set aside for reforestation efforts. When construction work starts, tree planting should commence at the same time. If it is thought that trees are slow growing, fast growing eucalypts can be used. In fact, eucalypt is so fast growing that it could grow on par with the interest of invested capital. If it is unacceptable to plant pure eucalypt stands, then mixed planting of eucalypt with other local species can be used. Before the construction work on the dam is finished, the watershed area would be green from reforestation, which will act as the rain inducer and put water behind the dam. Don't worry that eucalypt will cause drought or any other harmful effects; too much blame has already been placed on eucalypt without any solid evidence. It is now time for reconciliation - to put more trees into the ground. If this proposition is unexploitable, then you can also promote tree planting for direct economic reasons. This will create jobs, income and a new profession for rural folk. The direct benefit is obviously job opportunity and cash income. Indirect benefits would be the return of trees to that land. Although this is incomparable to natural forest, it is at least better than denuded hills and land, is it not?

Water must be equated with forest, not dams or fish. From now on, we must realize that nothing is available free of charge, be it soil fertility, fresh air, pure water. To obtain all those, we must pay for everything, i.e. fertilizers, air purifiers, water filters, etc. Even when you need additional water during drought period, the artificial rain that provides your required water, also costs a lot of money. We cannot find any cheap water anymore. It is quite difficult to persuade people to appreciate the real value of rain. If we want to know the real value of rain, we will need to employ hundreds of thousands of people to carry water and pour it into the ground equal to the amount of rain water that falls into that area. This way we can truly appreciate the value of rain.

National Economic and Social Development Plans have been implemented for many years. However, numerous projects from these plans, intended to improve the income and standards of living of Thai people, proved to be mostly failed attempts. Farmers and local folks still live a hopeless life. "Dharma and Golden Villages" are full of gamblers and drunkards. Petty thieves are plentiful in those villages. Why are all these things happening? It is because all those projects launched to improve income of farmers and local folks turned out to be activities that increased their debts. All the troubles of farmers and village folks are full of blood, sweat and tears. These people do not only have a hard time trying to work their fields, but also have a harder time trying to sell their products. They changed their cash crops every time when the market price of their product was unreasonably low, only to end up with another low priced product. There is a vicious cycle of agriculture in this country which causes intolerable suffering to farmers and village folks. These circumstances are the principal cause of mass migration to the city or even to other countries in the form of cheap labour or even as prostitutes. The struggle of our people is now reaching the dimension of bankruptcy of their life and soul. In short, agriculture as it is in Thailand now, is nothing but a burden and suffering to all of its practitioners.


From now on, everyone who wants to be a farmer must receive proper training just like any other profession. He needs to be patient, with all around knowledge on all aspects of life. He must be contented and determined to be a farmer, not just becoming a farmer because there is no other choice. He must be enthusiastic to be a farmer. But to upgrade present farmers and village folks to acquire this proper consciousness is not an easy task. All the processes needed to provide knowledge and training, as stated above, must be improved and streamlined to take on the assigned duty. Trainees must be selected according to their level of being, so that proper programmes can be appropriately designed for them.

It is still possible to get something out of this seemingly degraded land. Israel succeeded in doing so despite all the components in Israel are worse than those existing in Thailand now. This is because they carried out studies, and put proper planning for effective implementation. Here in Thailand they are doing these things like blind men describing an elephant!

For Thailand to carry out these things effectively, farmers must change their attitude and life style. They must be brave to confront all problems of farming with total sacrifice to all amenities they are used to when they live in the village. They must move their families to live on the farm land. The first thing to do is to build a house and water well along with doing all components of subsistence agriculture for their own survival - raising poultry, livestock, bee keeping, vegetable plots, etc. These activities should be within their homestead area just for their survival. The remaining fields further away from their houses should be divided according to land fertility. Those that are suitable for farming must be farmed with intensive care; those not so good, should be converted into tree planting, whether of fast growing or fruit trees. Space between trees could be planted with grasses and fodder species for cattle. Within 3-4 years when trees and other plants are actively growing, the whole farming area will turn into a fertile area with increasing jobs and incomes from charcoal making, small wood-working, furniture making, etc. I wish to call this area the "poor man's resort".

To seek a living on degraded land, with a chronic water shortage is not an easy living, however, there are several methods and techniques to help tackling this problem. There are ways and means in integrated agriculture, agroforestry, nature farming, alternative agriculture, etc. I myself totally agree with all those ways and means but these things must be materialized on the ground, not just in a publication or in lip service. These options are the way out of the vicious cycle in cash crop agriculture. There is hope in these options; Thailand needs to reduce her cash crop planting areas and convert those areas into tree farming area. Proper ratios between agriculture and tree planting areas should be explored and established to solve the problems cited earlier. As a matter of fact, in Thailand there is no one out of work but there are a lot of "choosy workers" with no real content: on job, no self reliance, no self respect. These people just rely on wishful thinking and put all their hope and money on gambling and lottery!

The Government of Thailand has just started a programme to promote tree planting in converted agricultural areas, with cash subsidy amounting to several thousand baht per rai. However, this promotion is limited to the planting of local tree species. For eucalypt, the Government will provide only soft loan, which is still better than not providing and support at all. I wish to warn all concerned that if we still look down and reject the planting of eucalypt, we will have to plant only cactus in the near future.

The idea of promoting the planting of local tree species in degraded land is highly inappropriate. Sometimes suitability and feasibility are quite opposite to our own needs and requirements. If possible, I would like the Government to reconcile this policy by adding fast growing tree species to the programme. This addition will surely help reducing risk of planting local tree species on bad, degraded site. Unfortunately, most bad and degraded sites cannot support their cultivation, because low fertility, drought and insect pests inherent to the site make it unsuitable for any crop. In the case of the Government insisting on planting local tree species, it would be a high risk endeavour, with a very slim chance of success. The Government ought to weigh carefully any tree species that could survive in these harsh conditions. In these circumstances, eucalypt should be given another chance to prove its versatility. Eucalypt could be planted in dry, wet and infertile sites, in fact in every site condition. Moreover, eucalypt possesses coppicing ability and can be harvested for several rotations. Besides, under suitable cover conditions, eucalypt can provide a primer of the reestablishment of natural forest which, I think, is the most important point to consider. I have never seen any natural regeneration of local tree species under these bad environment site conditions.

Therefore, community forestry projects, village woodlot projects or any other related project should consider using eucalypt to solve their immediate problems. This is because in no time at all, eucalypt will provide fuelwood and charcoal to all involved. If there is still the bad impression of eucalypt, that it will have harmful effect, then they could divide their land to plant eucalypt on plots opposite their local tree species. Before they can make any use out of local tree species plot, they can depend on eucalypt plot to provide wood, fuelwood and charcoal. In this manner of planting, I can see no harm of doing it this way. Furthermore, with proper management of the eucalypt plot, they can rely on this plot for edible mushrooms which are so abundant in eucalypt plantations. I certainly believe that no one wants to go hungry because there is no fuelwood or charcoal to cook one's food. Hunger does not recognize reserved forest that prohibits the cutting of people's fuelwood; even silver or golden trees would be cut to make fuelwood.

The problem of eucalypt planting is only in its proper management. If you are fearful of degrading ecology, you can plant eucalypt in mixed cultivation, using eucalypt as loose crop, main crop or any way you like it. Eucalypt will be ready to serve your purpose. The only catch is that you need to know the proper spacing, provenance selection, introduction of new strains suitable for lumbering, thinning, proper coppicing management, etc.

If all those consideration are taken into account, planting of eucalypt will provide increased income, creating jobs, alleviating wood scarcity. Periodic cutting and thinning of eucalypt plantation will always keep the area covered with trees and will create multi-storied uneven aged stand that can be selectively logged. In this manner, one would always have "goods" in stock ready for sale without any restriction, to earn some cash income. Big branches of eucalypt may be cut and converted to charcoal, pilings, or other utility small timber or even as raw material for wood chip, rayon industry, pulp industry, particle board industry, etc.

Or, if you want to promote cottage industries, eucalypt is ideal for charcoal making, kitchen wares, furniture or even lumbering to provide lumber for construction. On this aspect, it is quite worthwhile to note that in Thailand no one has ever sawn old growth eucalypt of large diameter. I am quite convinced that older eucalypt would provide better wood in terms of strength and the beauty of wood grain and colour.

I think, it is time to contemplate planting of eucalypt to provide logs for lumbering. I cannot think of any other tree species that can replace our lost hardwood from natural forest. On the whole, we are quite lost and cannot answer this imperative question but we still need wood and lumber supply. The planting of teak and other local hardwood species for wood production is quite vague and unreliable. I suspect that the promotion of teak and other hardwood species is just a plan to sell high priced seedlings. I think it is now a proper time to direct our tree planting effort, plantation establishment into a proper scope and direction so that we can overcome the looming environmental catastrophe. I totally agree with any kind of tree planting but I do not want to see greedy people take advantage of this activity from seed procurement to seedling production. Let us put our brains together to find tree species for planting that cost very little, are easy to plant, survive better, etc. so that a forest can be reestablished. On this matter, I would like to urge all concerned people to carry out their assigned duty as best as they can.

Before trees and forests can be established, it is imperative to persuade the heart and mind of people to realize the importance of trees and forests. When a proper understanding and correct attitude are attained in the heart and soul of people, we can be certain that trees and forests will be established and expand meaningfully. When all Thai people possess a "green" heart, we will have "green" country endowed with benevolent nature and "Dhama". In the past, we did not learn any lessons in nature conservancy. We want to have trees, wildlife and good environment but all we do is lip service without any consideration on the required budget. Every year minuscule budgets are allocated for public rotation, seminars and training. I wonder how many rolls of film can be purchased from the allocated budget? How many drops of petrol are allocated to those foresters patrolling those protected areas? I understand the stress and strain and disappointment of all those foresters. Or, we are already forgetting Mr. Sueb Nagasathira who devoted his life on this course!

Not so long ago, nature provided diverse types of forest and luxuriant vegetation to Thailand. Thai people in those days could see a landscape full of trees and forests; trees, flowers, fruit trees were so abundant in all regions. Later on, those some Thai people had exploited and devastated all their forests. Those who destroyed the forest should realize that they had robbed the future of their country, with no way to put back what they had robbed. The only proper thing these people could do to pay their debt and homage to their land, is to help protecting the remaining forests, re-establishing the lost forests in whatever manner they can. If they happen to have a plan and resource, to build a skyscraper, please give a serious thought to build tree plantation. This business though slow to generate profit nevertheless it is a steady, low risk business that does not reward only the investor, but also is beneficial to the country in terms of ecology and environment.

At the layman and village level folks, there were many interested people seeking advice from me. Most of them face the problems of: how to start their tree planting activities, how to select proper species, how to plant and tend those tree, etc. There was one family receiving my advice to this matter. His wife was wearing a big gold chain which I asked whether she wanted a still bigger gold chain which she said yes. I said that if you turn this gold chain into trees, within ten years you could wear a one kilo gold chain. Both of them started planting trees with intensive care. The result is much more profound than the expected income and gold chain. They turned "green" and love their trees much more than the gold chain. This is just one example of my experience. I do not expect that everyone would turn their gold chains into trees, but I would love to see it so. I think that the forest in Thailand is for everyone to establish and maintain with all our effort. I do hope that when people meet, their greetings should be "did you plant a tree today?" The Royal Forest Department should also change their motto to "everyone plant a tree, everywhere will be cool and comfortable". The Royal Forest Department should strongly encourage tree planting as much as fully as they can. I wish to recommend that for simple beginning with simple tree species, eucalypt is the best. When this endeavor reaches fruit, diverse initiatives in tree planting would be automatically born. Those who have never planted any tree, will start planting trees. Therefore, encouraging schools, temples, NGOs, the Government in fact everyone to plant more trees would be the best endeavor in our life.

In the Burirum province, Mr. Sukhum Thirawat (the first person to introduce eucalypt to Thailand) together with Miss. Khanitha Taweekarn have established an experimental centre for eucalypt under the name "Sanamchaiburi Eucalyptus Centre" at Tambon Sanamchai, Amphur Satuk, Chanwat Burirum which is now actively dealing with all aspects of eucalypt.

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