Eucalyptus in Ethiopia

Drive to Entoto Mountain at the north of Addis or through the countryside, or look at the scaffolding on construction sites, or the building materials for simple homes, and the prevalence and importance of eucalyptus in Ethiopia becomes quickly evident.

Eucalyptus trees and branches for sale

Eucalyptus trees and branches for sale

In about 1894 Emporer Menelik ordered the construction of a new capital for Ethiopia in Addis Ababa. There was a great need for timber for constructing this new city and Menelik endorsed the introduction of eucalyptus to Ethiopia from Australia at that time. Menelik encouraged its planting around Addis because of the massive deforestation that had taken place around the city for firewood and timber. Many plantations sprung up around the city and this spread to other areas throughout the country. It is a tree that adapts to a variety of environments.

Eucalyptus forests surround Addis Ababa to the north

Eucalyptus forests surround Addis Ababa to the north

One of the great advantages of the eucalyptus is that it is fast growing, requiring little attention and when cut down it grows up again from the roots; it can be harvested at least every ten years. It is intriguing to drive through the city or countryside and see large blocks of trees cut down that are regrowing.

Regrowth of cut eucalyptus trees

Regrowth of cut eucalyptus trees

Many have thought it ideal in watershed rehabilitation projects because it grows so quickly and can take root in eroding soil. Eucalyptus not only grows quickly it also grows very straight with few large branches. This makes it ideal for timber for homes and for the ever-present scaffolding around the city with so much construction happening.

Tall, straight eucalyptus trees used in scaffolding

Tall, straight eucalyptus trees used in scaffolding

The eucalyptus tree is, however, a thirsty plant, which can dry up rivers and wells, and, by its nature in absorbing water, it restricts grass cover and competes with other native flora, and because of this can actually increase soil erosion. According to treehugger.com Ethiopia is classified as having over 70% severe desertification (data from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). While there are several reasons, one major one is due to eucalyptus. So there is an emphasis in replacing eucalyptus with indigenous plants that are better able to restore the soil and save water. Most of the MCC watershed rehabilitation projects are using fast-growing indigenous trees rather than eucalyptus. There needs to be a balance in the locations in which it is grown and what it is grown for. The provision of eucalyptus wood for timber and firewood does reduce the pressure on other natural forests so there are some good benefits of eucalyptus.

Eucalyptus growing in gullies at watershed rehabilitation sites  to prevent further erosion

Eucalyptus growing in gullies at watershed rehabilitation sites to prevent further erosion

Another story on the evidence of eucalyptus is seen on the drive up to Entoto Mountain (which at 10,000 feet is 2,000 feet higher than the rest of Addis). Its hundreds or thousands of acres are covered in eucalyptus and the cutting is government controlled. The need for firewood for families could put pressure on this land – acres of firewood in sight but not usable by the general population. However, fallen branches and leaves are gathered up, mostly by women, and are carried down the mountain for sale to vendors and families. This is literally back breaking work for minimal pay although it does provide some income for these women. There is an effort to provide other income generation activities for many of these women to replace this very physical labour, through the work of a few different social service organizations.

Women wood carriers on Entoto mountain

Women wood carriers on Entoto mountain

The prevalence of eucalyptus is seen every day as people go about their daily lives – firewood, timber for housing, scaffolding, carrying wood by hand or by truck ….. it is ever-present and ever-useful in the lives of people throughout Ethiopia.

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About pcwoolner

Served from June 2012 - August 2016 with Mennonite Central Committee Ethiopia as country representatives working with partners in programs such as food security, disaster response, sustainable community development, education and health. Beginning January 2017 serving 6 months as interim country representatives with Mennonite Central Committee in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa (with responsibilities for South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland). Currently residing in Ontario, Canada
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2 Responses to Eucalyptus in Ethiopia

  1. Doug Amstutz says:

    Great article Peter and Cath. We saw this also first hand. Acacia trees are the way to go!

  2. Scott Albrecht says:

    Thanks for walking us through a complex issue. When you started with all the benefits, I was waiting for something bad when you mentioned it came from another continent. Good for MCC’s efforts to use native plants, but not also make new problems by ripping everything out when there is a benefit. Keep up the good work.

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