Eucalyptus a hidden cause of Southwest China's drought

Thursday, March 25, 2010

By Chen Chenchen
Source: Global Times

Drought-plagued Southwest China is witnessing a bitter lack of water.

Wang Xuefeng, deputy director of the Climate Center of Yunnan Province, says the drought is a low-probability event. "It's like wining a prize in the lottery. In the long river of history, there's always one year in which such a drought takes place. If you think of it this way, things get much simpler," he said.

Is it really that simple? Though experts are still arguing over the causes of the worst drought in a century, the vast eucalyptus forests throughout the region are at least one hidden cause.

After Sinar Mas Group and Storan Enso, two leading paper-making manufacturers, launched projects in southwestern China in recent years, fast-growing eucalyptus trees have been massively promoted and planted, wiping out vast indigenous forests and natural weed trees.

Currently in Wenshan, Simao and Lincang, Yunnan Province, eucalyptus forests cover more than 20,000 square kilometers, in the wake of deals between Sinar Mas Group and local governments.

In Wenshan, Yunnan Province, despite the worries voiced by scholars from the very beginning, local officials showed great passion toward Sinar Mas Group's $1.8 billion investment, which was expected to bring 12,000 employment opportunities and annual value-added tax of 42.5 billion yuan ($6.22 billion).

Farmers, lured by higher pay, also joined the gigantic movement to plant fast-growing eucalyptus.

Nevertheless, the impact of the movement has been destructive. Eucalyptus, called the "despot tree" by locals, has gradually drawn out water and nutrients in the soil, and inhibited weeds, shrubs and herbal medicines. Animals can barely live on such bare land. And the special chemical fertilizer used in soil heavily pollutes water quality. In addition to the current drought, more unimaginable ecological costs are still ahead.

Due to its potential destruction of vegetation and water sources, Japan, Australia, Vietnam and Cambodia have all banned massive planting of fast-growing Eucalyptus to avoid ecological calamities. New Zealand also removed its previously planted mas-sive eucalyptus forests. Sinar Mas Group and Storan Enso, blamed for destroying ecological forests across the world, turned to China, well known for its emphasis on rapid economic development.

It's time for China to take action too.

Destructive eucalyptus forests should be removed, making room for ecologically sound forests. Paper-makers and local officials, who caused the situation with profit-oriented thinking, are now obliged to change it.

Local governments can provide these manufacturers with fund compensation and preferential policies in a bid to encourage them to change their current production mode. They should also urge the paper-makers to stop planting eucalyptus and help remove the destructive trees within a certain period.

Updating current paper-making practices is an urgent need, environmentally friendly paper-makers are called for, and wood resources should be used in a sustainable way.


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