The melaleuca forests of the Mekong Delta are a unique ecosystem that once covered most of the
Delta. These forests are particularly well adapted to the very difficult soil conditions of the Delta
inappropriate use of fire, have greatly reduced the extent and complexity of the natural melaleuca
forests. By the early 1990’s large areas of Kien Giang were
treeless wastelands. Today,
melaleuca forests play a very important role in local economies and confer considerable
environmental benefits to the region. Production forests of melaleuca comprise 3.9% (24,421 ha)
of the total area of Kien Giang.
Most of the areas available for production forests in Kien Giang have Severe Acid Sulphate Soils.
Many of these areas are under pressure for conversion to urban or agricultural development.
Disturbance of Acid Sulphate Soils resulting in oxidation of the sulphitic layer results in release of
sulphuric acid and in turn release of iron, aluminium and other heavy metals within the soil.
Eco-tourism - fishing at U Minh
German Development Cooperation
IMPROVING PRODUCTIVITY AND
ground and surface water, killing fish and other aquatic organisms, and degrading concrete and
steel structures. These problems are often long term and difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.
For such acid sulphate soils Melaleuca species are the only ones able to produce timber without
extensive site disturbance which invariably leads to extensive environmental damage. Melaleuca
cajuputi is the naturally occurring species in the Mekong but a closely related species Melaleuca
leucodendron has been introduced from Australia and grows faster in some soils and may be more
suited to saw log production.
Traditionally melaleuca has been grown at very high stockings (10, 000 stems/ha or greater) to
produce large numbers of small size posts and poles for use in general construction. However, the
price of melaleuca poles is decreasing (price for Pole 5
second class dropped from 15,000 to
converting to agriculture (rice growing). This conversion is generally accompanied with a
significant environmental damage as the soils are often sub-optimal for rice and poor yields result.
While there is no payment for environmental services or social benefits to the private grower or
Forest Enterprise for establishing and managing melaleuca forests for timber production, land use
conversions are likely to continue unless improved silvicultural technology is introduced to improve
productivity and profitability of melaleuca plantations.
There are increasing incentives and interest in growing
logs. Melaleuca timber is attractive and suited for high value
end uses such as furniture manufacture. Given the global
increase in area of conservation and protection forests and the
move towards forest certification, the price of high value
rainforest timbers is expected to escalate creating an
opportunity for growers of melaleuca to capitalise on the
growing demand for solid timber for high quality use. One of
the major limitations for high value uses of melaleuca is the
small log sizes available, but there are economically attractive
prospects for melaleuca sawn wood.
Silvicultural research is urgently required however to increase the productivity and profitability of
tested and demonstrated, especially spacing and thinning to produce fewer large, defect free size
trees per unit area. Three demonstration areas have recently been established in the project
Centre for Production on Acid Sulphate Soils to quantify the impact of spacing and thinning on
stem size and productivity. Improved establishment techniques are also needed if large stems are
to be produced in relatively short rotations. The response of melaleuca on severe Acid Sulphate
Soils to fertiliser addition is also being tested.
Sustainable management of the melaleuca forests of the Mekong Delta should be seen as a
much wider community. Melaleuca forests prevent environmental degradation and provide a
substantial carbon sink which helps mitigate climate change.