Drought stricken Ethiopia tries to get rid of eucalyptus tree

By Kristin Underwood | TreeHugger.com

eucalyptus tree

Today Ethiopia is classified as having over 70% severe desertification, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). While there are several reasons, one major one is thanks (or no thanks) to eucalyptus brought over from Australia. But, the folks over at the Entoto National Park project, want to see that eucalyptus is replaced with indigenous plants in an effort to restore the soil and save water, as reported in Selamta.

The Entoto National Park project is not actually a national park, so tourists coming to see the hyena and lammergeyers are often disappointed as no such park exists. But the area is a 1300 hectare spot north of the capital Addis Ababa, which was decimated thanks to poor planning almost 150 years ago. The Emperor at the time, Menelik, ordered construction of the “new” city which meant the need for a lot of fuel and fast. The solution: import eucalyptus from Australia. 120 years later: Houston, we have a problem.

What’s Wrong with Eucalyptus?

Koalas love it and we’re losing tons of it through the drought in Australia. So why would the Entoto National Park project want to out and out destroy it? Eucalyptus needs water, and a lot of it. For a plant that is taking over to also be so demanding, kind of makes it hard to justify the cost of keeping it around, particularly in developing countries where the soil could be put to better use.

Which brings us to our next problem: erosion. The eucalyptus plants are thriving but also destroying the soil, which doesn’t help in an area that already suffers from “high gradients, heavy rainfall and…clay [soil].” Thus, restoring the landscape to more native species will also reduce flooding and soil loss.

How to Replace Eucalyptus

First, workers on the project have been planting trees native to Ethiopia, such as “Juniperus excelsa, Acacia abyssinica, Olea europaea cuspidata and Hagenia abyssinica. To stop the erosion, project workers are creating terraces and check dams along the hillsides. Neighbors to the park who allow their animals to roam free (and eat the new saplings) will be fined, thus the park has hired guards to monitor and protect the park.

The eucalyptus plants themselves can be “debarked” to prevent regrowth, but this takes a large amount of time and money. The eucalyptus stalks can also be sold for use as telephone poles and fence posts. The restoration plan is estimated to cost one Birr one million per year for the next five years.

In the short time since the program began, there have already been nice results. Areas that are already undergoing reforestation are thriving and animals like dik diks and jackals are starting to return to the area, along with birds. Workers at the Entoto National Park just hope that the good work keeps up and that they can afford to keep going.