Australia acacia tree genus enhances livelihoods in Asia

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Tony Bartlett is Forestry Research Program Manager with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)  — A version of this story was originally posted on the ACIAR website.

A genus of Australian tree, Acacia, is playing an important role in many countries, helping to improve livelihoods for so many people while providing enhanced environmental benefits in rural landscapes in many Asian countries.

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), which will host a session titled Equitable development: Improving livelihood benefits for smallholders in the forestry value chain  at the Forests Asia Summit in Jakarta on May 5 and 6, is involved with scientists from around the world researching aspects of the growth, management and processing of acacia trees.

Most of these trees are derived from Australian germplasm. In Australia, some species of acacia – such as Acacia melanoxylon – produce beautiful timbers that are prized for furniture making. However, most Australian acacias provide conservation and aesthetic benefits rather than commercial benefits.

In Indonesia and Vietnam the situation with Australian acacias is very different.

Acacia pulpwood in Sumatra, Indonesia

The main focus of ACIAR’s forestry research on acacias is related to improving the productivity of tropical species, such as Acacia crassicarpa, Acacia mangium, Acacia auriculiformis and hybrids between these. It is estimated that over 940,000 hectares of tropical acacias are now grown in Vietnam, and more than half of these are grown by smallholder farmers. Vietnam is now the world’s largest exporter of hardwood woodchips and some 90 percent of the 5.4 million tonnes exported in 2011 was acacia, valued at $600 million.

Acacia outdoor furniture in Hanoi, Vietnam

ACIAR-funded research on tree breeding has improved the wood yields of acacias grown on 7-year rotations by 15-25 percent. Research in both Indonesia and Vietnam on improved site-management practices and using improved germplasm indicates that wood yields could be enhanced up to four-fold.

Growing acacias in plantations and farm woodlots is not without risks, particularly from pests and diseases. Significant areas of acacia plantation in Indonesia are suffering tree deaths as a result of infestations of root rot pathogens and stem canker and wilt diseases. ACIAR’s research in Indonesia is helping to try to find ways to limit the spread and severity of root rot pathogens and promoting attention to sustainability issues.

Acacia mangium silviculture trial in northern Vietnam

Collaborative research between Australian and in-country scientists on acacia has helped transform the livelihoods of many smallholder farmers, particularly in Vietnam. Many farmers now adopt short-rotation forestry as a primary income generation strategy and use these funds to cover significant financial commitments such as school and university fees, weddings and medical costs. They see the trees as assets that they can turn into cash when the need arises.

More information:

ACIAR projects on acacias:
FST/1992/027 Australian acacias for sustainable development in China, Vietnam and Australia 7
FST/2003/002 Development and evaluation of sterile triploids and polyploid breeding methodologies for commercial species of Acacia in Vietnam, South Africa and Australia
FST/2003/048 Management of fungal root rot in plantation acacias in Indonesia
FST/2006/087 Optimising silvicultural management and productivity of high-quality acacia plantations, especially for sawlogs
FST/2008/007 Advanced breeding and deployment methods for tropical acacias
FST/2008/039 Enhancement of production of acacia and eucalypt peeled and sliced veneer products in Vietnam and Australia
FST/2009/051 Increasing productivity and profitability of Indonesian smallholder plantations

ACIAR reports on acacia research:
FR2013-26 Optimising silvicultural management and productivity of high-quality acacia plantations, especially for sawlogs (2013)
FR2012-06 Management of fungal root rot in plantation acacias in Indonesia (2012)
FR2011-07 Realising genetic gains in Indonesia and Australian plantations through water and nutrient management (2011)
PR124 Heart rot and root rot in tropical Acacia plantations (2006)
PR082 Recent developments in acacia planting (1997)

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