Regional Forest Resources Officer
FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
The present paper presents a historic overview of Eucalyptus planting within the Region and the controversies which have occurred. The author describes possible solutions to the most common problems including the involvement of local communities to a larger extent, securement of land tenure through long term leases, development of local marketing capacity, diversification of crops and products, improvement of silviculture and management techniques, the establishment of appropriate credit systems and a revision of forest policies to reflect the difference between natural and manmade forests. The scope of the present Consultation is summarized.
Key words: Eucalyptus, eucalypts, plantations, community participation, tenure, marketing, diversification of crops, silviculture, credit systems, forest policy reform, environmental, social, economic impacts.
One of the most important subjects in tropical forestry in the last fifteen years has been how to promote tree planting programmes in an effective way. As seen in the FAO's monitoring and assessment work of the tropical forest resources, the tropical natural forests of the Region have been constantly degraded and destroyed. The current deforestation rate has doubled from 2.0 during the 1970s to 3.9 million ha during the 1980s. Many people witnessed this drastic reduction of the tropical forests with fear. In most developing countries, the populations have doubled in the last three to four decades. Population pressure on forest lands is often referred to as the prime cause of deforestation. It might be true. However, if people forget other factors such as misunderstanding the nature of forests, misconception of forest management, inadequate forest policy, etc., we have little chance to redirect this grave trend.
After suffering from the consequences of deforestation - serious environmental crisis with more frequent floods, drought, and landslides; soil erosion and siltation; the loss of wildlife habitats; the damage and loss of biodiversity; further impoverishment of rural communities around or inside the forests - human societies have started to realise that something is wrong.
Thus, tree planting, especially using fast growing tree species, has been highlighted as a cure, and in this context Eucalyptus species have been introduced without setting up a new framework. This has caused numerous conflicts surrounding eucalypts from the environmental, social and economical viewpoints.
This brief paper will present an overview of such issues from different angles, based on the papers submitted to this Consultation's secretariat.
In many developing countries of the Region, eucalypts were introduced in the 19th century as ornamental plants to decorate parks, road sides, or for collections in botanical gardens. Sporadic scientific studies were also conducted to check the potentials of eucalypts for timber or fuelwood production. At that time, however, most countries were still rich in natural forest resources. The establishment of rather small scale plantations, therefore, did not take place until the first half of this century. This movement evolved into large scale plantations, when the threat of natural forest depletion was foreseen and became a reality. This turning point came at different times in different countries due to specific conditions in each country, but generally occurred sometime between the 1960s and the 1980s.
Eucalypts were among other candidates for such plantation schemes. Compared to most other species, they showed good or remarkable growth rates on low altitude lands and on environmentally harsh lands (infertile soils, arid lands, etc.). Thus, eucalypts attained a leading position in reforestation and afforestation programmes. The government forestry authorities naturally took up eucalypts in their tree planting programmes - unfortunately without an associated serious reform of the conventional forestry policies, administration and management schemes, which dealt with natural forests. Very few people realised that it required different concepts, and therefore new policies, institutional arrangements and management skills, to deal with manmade forests, especially when planting exotic species.
BEHIND THE EUCALYPTUS DEBATE
Exotic species are, by nature, susceptible to criticisms because of the large gap between high expectations and disappointing reality. Since most of the eucalypts were introduced on marginal lands and wastelands, where people previously carried out subsistence farming, the trees were blamed for any negative effects occurring.
This blame was easily multiplied in the case of industrial plantations aimed to benefit forest industrialists, who were more powerful in society and already had greater advantages than the powerless farmers. It is easily imagined that the latter felt oppressed and taken advantage of.
The nature of eucalypts, which seem to demand more water and soil nutrients in a short period than most other species (even if this is not true with regard to water consumption per unit biomass produced), worsened the situation, because water was in short supply for agricultural crops growing on such marginal lands in the first place. In addition, land tenure and ownership issues have made matters more problematic. In most cases, the land belonged to government authorities, not to the farmers. Justified by this legal position, the authorities tended to disregard the sentiments of the local people. Bureaucratic central planning systems and the attitude of government officials towards local communities often deepened the conflicts and sowed distrust between the two sides.
Lastly, large scale eucalypt plantations adversely affected local communities, who could no longer harvest the various natural products, which were formerly collected from natural forests as a source of income, food, fodder, etc. Since these products were very important for maintaining the livelihood of people who lived on marginal lands, the antagonism towards eucalypts was further aggravated.
These factors have combined to crystallize the criticisms of eucalypts, making it a scapegoat for social and economic conflicts - an easy solution instead of facing the real causes of problems and fighting for real solutions.
The above is a rough sketch of the background of the Eucalyptus debate, extracted from the papers submitted to this Consultation. Of course, this sketch cannot be applied to every country or area, without considering the different situations due to locality, peoples' social and economic conditions and government forestry and land policies. In places where the farmers own their land and there are fewer constraints with regard to soil fertility and water supply, farmers on the contrary benefit substantially from the planting of eucalypts. If there is no or an extremely sparse population in the government forest lands, the establishment and management of eucalypt plantations becomes easier.
In principle, measures to reverse the conditions mentioned above are all possible and fundamental solutions. However, the situation has been created as a result of an inevitable historical process and it is thus not an easy task (if it were so easy to do, things could have been solved a long time ago). The following are some realistic suggestions to improve the situation.
Involvement of local communities
Since the Eighth World Forestry Conference in 1978 in Jakarta, Indonesia, in which an important declaration "Forestry for People" was adopted, the community forestry approach in a framework of integrated rural development has become widespread. One essential concept of community forestry is "Peoples' Participation in Forestry Programmes". In this context, government development programme planners should involve the local people by asking the following questions: What are the problems? What do the local people need and why? How can these problems and needs be addressed? For whom, when and where should the programme be implemented?
These basic questions can best be answered by the local people. The chief reason why government planned programmes are often unpopular or unsuccessful, while grassroot NGOs' services are welcomed and successful, is due to this point.
On the other hand, the government departments usually have bigger capacities of long term commitment of funds, manpower and technical services than NGOs and local organizations. It thus seems logical that departments should concentrate on such aspects, and local communities should gradually become wholly responsible for programme implementation. Since individuals may not be able to take such a responsibility, it would be advantageous to form cooperatives or similar kinds of local organizations, if these do not already exist. Such is the practice in India where it has shown remarkable success. NGOs and local organizations can play a catalytic and innovative role in system development. This could be one practical solution, and in fact community forestry programmes are conceived under this scenario.
Land use, tenure and ownership
In tree planting programmes, land use, tenure and ownership issues always become the most acute key factors. If the rights to the land that people use is unclear, no programme can be implemented successfully. When the government faces difficulties in releasing the ownership of land, a long term lease arrangement with proper benefit share schemes could be an alternative. The use of communal land in fair management and benefit sharing schemes is worth considering. If monocultures of tree crops might adversely affect the environment, the application of agroforestry techniques is an optional solution.
When tree planting starts to yield economic returns, such benefits tend to fall in the hands of locally influential persons. To prevent this, appropriate institutional mechanisms should be developed. The establishment of democratic decision-making systems is essential.
Processing and marketing of products
Before tree products are harvested, people have to consider how to process and market them. The development of processing capacity at the local level, in combination with marketing capacity development, maybe through local organizations, will increase the economic benefits. This can usually increase their negotiating power with buyers, and avoid middlemen. A direct link with the market will largely benefit both producers and consumers. One good example is provided by the Nashik District Eucalyptus Growers' Co-operative Society & Agro-Forestry Co-operatives Federation, Nashik, Maharashtra State, India.
Diversification of crops and products
Even if tree planting is promising, an over-dependence on tree crops will invite unfavourable conditions due to possible fluctuations in the market prices. In particular, over-production will trigger the decline of the price obtainable for the product in question. Therefore, it is safer to diversify the products, cultivating not only tree species but also growing horticultural and agricultural crops at the same time. Agroforestry appears again as a feasible option. Rotation of crops from one piece of land to another may help avoid negative effects of nutrient deficiency in the soils.
The genus Eucalyptus consists of some 700 species. Some species can produce essential oils, leaf-meal, chemicals, honey, etc. Studies on the characteristics of different products should be conducted or technical information from government research institutions obtained.
Improvement of silviculture and management
Selection of the right species and high yield varieties can make a huge difference in final economic returns of eucalypt plantations. Proper silvicultural practices, including production of quality planting material at cheaper prices, influence economics beyond imagination. Fertilizing eucalypts can also bring a significant increase in yield over a short period. Fire control is crucially important.
According to the short or long rotations, the most suitable management schemes have to be adopted. Ecological and economic benefits must be balanced for the long term sustainability of land productivity.
Eucalypts still need several years to grow but they are harvestable in a short period, 3-10 years depending on the site, species/varieties, silvicultural treatment, desired final products, etc. Therefore, appropriate forestry credit systems become essential. In order to prepare for possible failure of the harvest due to fire or climatic hazards, it is recommended to cover the trees under an insurance scheme such as those available for agricultural crops.
REFORM OF FOREST POLICY AND THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT FOREST SERVICES
Forestry is a long term venture. Natural forests can be easily converted into manmade forests, but it is an irreversible process. The functions and characteristics of the two forest types are quite different in their ecological, environmental, social, economic and cultural aspects. When discussing forestry issues, these differences must be well understood. Thus, forest policies should address natural forests and manmade plantations separately.
In general, natural forests provide a much wider range of goods and services than plantations. A certain balance is required in the proportion of natural forest and plantations that is appropriate for a particular country. Traditional forest policies and management systems have been designed for natural forests, even though some changes have taken place in recent years. Since government forestry authorities are responsible for reviewing the conventional framework and for reforming it to develop a new one then failing to protect the natural forests and also failing to create or promote manmade forests may invite the serious question among people of whether the country needs such a government office or not.
Since manmade forests are largely the subject of economic activity, they are inevitably the target of investment from the private sector. If the performance of the private sector with regard to manmade forest establishment and management proves higher than the capacity of government forestry authorities, the government may have to give up the work of manmade forests. In fact, this has happened in many developed countries. And, in some developing countries such as Thailand and the Philippines, this trend seems to have been taking place gradually. Thus, a reform of forest policy is urgently required. It includes issues mentioned in the former section.
THE SCOPE OF THE PRESENT CONSULTATION
The scope of this Consultations is stated in the former sections. It can be summarized as follows:
Bio-physical and environmental impacts of eucalypt plantations:
Address the following questions:
- Are Eucalyptus plantations really hazardous to the environment or not?
- If there are any negative features, how do we minimize them?
Assess the potentials of Eucalyptus species and how to fully utilize these.
Review the recent scientific findings.
Social impacts of eucalypt plantations:
Review the country situations.
Assess the implications.
Recommend remedial solutions.
Economic impacts of eucalypt plantations:
Review the country situations.
Assess the implications.
Assess the potentials of Eucalyptus species and how to utilize these fully without adversely affecting the environment.
Benefits to local communities.
Development of processing and marketing facilities.
Policy issues in the national forestry sector:
On afforestation programmes (including eucalypts).
On community forestry and agroforestry.
On forest industry and rural development.
On the private sector and the government.
Financial and institutional supports for afforestation programmes (inc. eucalypt plantations):
Research support and information services:
Assess needs and range of services.
On social science and economic analysis.
Eucalyptus seedlings in nursery