Eucalyptus, pine trees dry up water sources- authorities warn

Eucalyptus trees planted in a drainage basin at Kibiingo Cell in Busiisi Division, Hoima Municipality.

The Hoima district LC 5 vice chairman, Frederick Kakoraki, has warned farmers against growing eucalyptus trees saying they have a high groundwater consumption rate.

His warning follows visits paid to water sources in the district after some residents complained that their protected springs had dried up.

The politician says after thorough scrutiny, he observed that all water sources that dried up had eucalyptus trees grown adjacent to them.

Kakoraki adds that even some swamps that have been encroached on for growing eucalyptus trees have also dried up in some parts of Hoima.

“The reason why wells have dried up in some parts of Hoima is because people have encroached on swamps and planted some eucalyptus trees there. Noticeably, water springs next to eucalyptus trees have dried up. This means that eucalyptus trees have a high water consumption rate thus dehydrating the soils.”

The vice chairman advises farmers to stop growing eucalyptus trees on their land and also avoid encroaching on swamps for soil to keep its water vital for human use and ecological sustainability.

“In order to save wells from drying up, people should stop planting the wrong eucalyptus trees in swamps and on their land.”

According to EvapoTranspiration figures, a eucalyptus tree consumes 15 to 20 liters of water daily, though this varies to a number of factors including season among others.

Kakoraki castigates some public officers who condone planting eucalyptus trees instead of encouraging people to plant indigenous trees that are eco-friendly.

“There are some government officials who insist on endless public sensitisation about the dangers of destroying the environment yet do not act beyond that as the environment continues to be destroyed.”

Farmers in Hoima have taken a big stride in growing both eucalyptus and pine trees because they are fast-growing and bring profits in a short term.

In 2019, the National Forestry Authority (NFA) stopped individuals and organisations from growing eucalyptus and pine trees in some areas that were considered to be eco-sensitive and unfriendly to the two fast-growing tree species.

NFA’s director of Policy and Planning, Paul Buyerah Musamali said eucalyptus and pine trees were not good to be planted on river banks, areas close to swamps and lakes due to their high water consumption levels that culminates in drying up the water bodies.

It takes five to six years for a eucalyptus tree to mature and serve as a permanent construction material and about 12 years and above to mature for timber.

A pine tree takes two to three years and on poor sites seven to eight years to mature.

This fast-maturity rate makes them a darling to investor farmers who like reaping profits earlier. This is contrary to Mvule tree that takes 60 to 80 years to reach maturity yet it is friendly to ecosystem.

The long time taken for such trees to mature puts off some investor farmers who want quick returns on investment.

The Hoima deputy Resident District Commissioner, Richard Tabaro vows to mount operations to crackdown on encroachers who have planted eucalyptus trees in swamps.

He castigates public servants who encourage swamp encroachment for growing eucalyptus trees in swampy areas.

“Operations will be mounted in Hoima and Kikuube districts and the culprits will be coerced to cut down the trees that they have planted in wetlands.”

In Kenya, Prof Wangari Maathai, a renowned environmentalist called for a ban on commercial eucalyptus tree plantations there because they contribute to water depletion through their high demand for it.

“The aggressive push for exotic tree species, over-promoted for commercial reasons should be opposed and there should be a focus on planting indigenous trees which are best suited to regions where they are supposed to be.”

In Kikuyu language, a eucalyptus tree is called a water guzzler (munyua mai). East Africa’s average rainfall catchments is between 1200-1800mm which can mostly be consumed by eucalyptus trees alone.

This means eucalyptus or pine trees should not be planted in watersheds with an average rainfall below 1600mm, according to the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF).

J S Rawat, a renowned hydrologist said recently that eucalyptus trees can be used for drying plots of land with a high water level and other marshy areas.

He added that that a pine tree sheds abundant amounts of poisonous pine needles which are neither consumed by animals nor decomposed by microbes to convert it into humus and soil.

The pine needles function like an impermeable plastic sheet which accelerates the rainfall runoff all over the area.

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