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The controversy surrounding eucalypts in social forestry programs of Asia

CollectionsANU Resources, Environment & Development Group (RE&D)
Title: The controversy surrounding eucalypts in social forestry programs of Asia
Author(s): Casson, Anne
Keywords: eucalypts
social forestry programs of Asia
rural deevlopment
Publisher: Canberra, ACT: Resource Management in Asia-Pacific Program (RMAP), Division of Pacific and Asian History, Research School for Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University
Series/Report no.: Resource Management in Asia-Pacific Program (RMAP) Working Paper: No. TBA
Social forestry emerged amidst important changes in thinking about the role of forestry in rural development and a growing need for fuelwood. In an attempt to alleviate the fuelwood crisis, the World Bank encouraged the planting of Eucalyptus species in its social forestry programs in the 1980s. Eucalypts were the chosen tree species for the majority of social forestry projects because they survive on difficult sites and out-perform indigenous species and most other exotics in height and girth increment, producing wood for poles, pulp and fuel more rapidly. But, despite the benefits that eucalypts can bring to developing countries, the introduction of the species in social forestry projects has not been without controversy. <p> This paper reviews two controversial social forestry projects—one in Karnataka, South India, and the other in Tung Kula Ronghai, North-east Thailand—based on Eucalyptus species that resulted in social protest. In doing so, this paper aims to determine why these projects failed to bring benefits to the communities involved and what it was that caused these communities to protest. In both cases, it was found that criticisms levelled against eucalypts were expressed in ecological terms. Eucalypts do have some adverse ecological impacts on soil nutrients, water hydrology, biodiversity and wildlife, but protests against the tree conceal the real reasons for anxieties about the planting of eucalypts—inappropriate use without due consideration for community needs. Both projects resulted in social concerns such as the loss of agricultural land for food production, reductions in rural employment, diversion of forest products from local markets to larger industrial users, and the transfer of public or common land to private corporations. The failure of eucalypts to meet the social objectives of social forestry policies were found to outweigh any of the technical and ecological criticisms against the tree and Eucalyptus became a symbol and rallying point of grass roots resistance to government meddling, poor project planning and management. Lessons to be learned from the failings of the Karnataka and Tung Kula Ronghai social forestry projects will be drawn and couched within the framework of ecologically sustainable development. Whilst both projects caused unnecessary hardship to those communities involved, much can be learnt from the failings of these projects and these lessons will minimise the risks of similar controversies arising in future social forestry projects.


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