A small boat floats slowly past the island upon which we stand. The boat is laden with men and bags of green leaves. I ask Johnson what are the green leaves.
Those are eucalyptus leaves.
The island I am on is covered in eucalypts, as is almost everywhere else in Uganda.
Why are they transporting the leaves?
To sell. There are some traditional medicines that are made from eucalyptus leaves. Things like treatment of colds.
Let’s stop the story right here and I’ll give you some background on eucalypts in Uganda.
There are lots of different types of eucalyptus tree. Of these, only 15 can be found outside of Australia and only 6 of those 15 are not in Australia. The ones that are outside of Australia tend to be located near Australia in places like Papua New Guinea.
In the 1970’s, in an effort to stop the locals from cutting down the Ugandan rainforest, the eucalypt was introduced as a replacement. The tree grows fast, grow straight and are good for firewood, as a means of dealing with malaria, as a wind break, as a way to stop soil erosion and for timber for building houses.
It seems to have worked as many Ugandan families have small plots for their personal usage and the rainforest is still there. Although the rainforest is very small.
There are some downsides to the tree. The first is that you’re introducing a foreign species into the environment which can have negative impacts on the existing ecosystem. One impact is that Uganda looks like northern Australia now. Much of Africa looks like Australia now. Even parts of Turkey looks like Australia as they have eucalypts there too.
The tree also sucks the land dry of water. This isn’t a problem in places like Uganda where it rains a lot. It was a problem for South Africa though where the trees planted had to be removed because they were drying up rivers.
In Australia where it’s generally quite dry, the tree generates a lot of dry forest litter. It sheds bark and branches whenever it doesn’t have enough water. This dry timber falls to the ground and waits for the next bushfire. The dry litter burns quite well and helps fuel the savage bushfires that we get every year.
The tree itself causes some problems in bushfires as well. They get hot and the pressure builds up inside them. The tree eventually explodes sending blazing fireballs in all directions. The blaze then spreads.
I worry that if central Africa experiences a dry spell they’ll end up with the huge bushfires that Australia gets.
I also worry about how people can have a traditional medicine when the core ingredient has only been in the country for 40 years.
Thank you for reading this traditional blog article. My family has been writing these for a generation now.