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The eucalypt in the Ethiopian highlands: tree of solidarity

Researchers at the UPM are collaborating in a eucalypts breeding program in the Ethiopian highlands which will increase this species productivity.

This program is developed by the research group of Forest Physiology and Genetics and the cooperative group of Support to Forestry Development of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM). Also, it is supported by several national and international institutions that will contribute to satisfy the demand of woody biomass and other financial needs of Ethiopian farmers.
For years, these two research groups have been collaborating with Forestry Research Center and the St. Mary’s College and supported by Ence and the Council of Alcorcón. Also, they are working on providing the Ethiopian highlands with tools and knowledge for better forestry management. This could constitute a valuable tool to achieve sustainability when using and supplying natural resources. The main project consists of a eucalypt breeding program that will result in improvements in many areas.

The great demand for forest products to use for agriculture by the population of the Ethiopian highlands has resulted in the deforestation of a region with the lowest human development rate in the world. The eucalypt is the species with the highest demand among Ethiopian farmers and has an important environmental and socioeconomic key role in the highlands area.
The consumption of eucalypt is been boosted because of its compatibility with the grazing system and its high yields even in marginal agricultural soils of abandoned lands. However, farmers are lacking of start materials and the current techniques make production difficult.

Within the improvement program, the researchers established an experimental test with eucalypt plants from Ethiopia and Spain in order to compare their potential productivity in local conditions. The Spanish plant, that had a certain rate of improvement, showed a growth and survival rate between 27% and 35%, a rate higher than the Ethiopian plants. Although this test is hurt by atypical adverse environmental factors in the area, by restrictions and hard survival due to frost and drought, the early results give an idea of the potential of forest improvements to increase eucalypt productivity. The Spanish plant use broadens the genetic layout in the Ethiopian highlands that was historically very limited.

Besides, this test will produce materials of high quality (seeds and sections of plants) and using them will allow farmers to obtain better yields in future plantings. Therefore, it will contribute to satisfy the demand of woody biomass which is used for fuel and constructions. Also, this would support the emerging wood local market.

The eucalypt research was possible thanks to a nursery setting for the production of eucalypt and its native plant. The outcome was the reforestation of 140 hectares of degraded land owned by 286 families of farmers and also the setting of 25 hectares of experimental tests.

Also, a Forest Centre was build to support the development of activities the area. Meanwhile, a eucalypt national congress was held in order to share knowledge and results, also to create a network of species users.

The eucalypt program was awarded with the mention of excellence in 2010 by the Ethiopian government and also awarded by the Research for Development Cooperation 2013 UPM.

GUZMÁN, P.; GIL, L.; TADESSE, W. “Variation in growth traits and survival of landraces of Eucalyptus globulus Labill. in the Ethiopian highlands”. Forest Systems 22 (3): 401-407. DOI: 10.5424/fs/2013223-04130. Pub. 2013.

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