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Eucalyptus and development: explaining stakeholder perceptions in two Spanish Regions

Final Activity Report Summary - EUCADEVE (Eucalyptus and Development: Explaining Stakeholder Perceptions in Two Spanish Regions)

Rural areas of the world are changing due to the expansion of plantations of commercial forests, such as eucalyptus. The economic benefits of eucalyptus are enormous. Many important industries, such as pulp and paper, depend on the eucalyptus, and its large-scale plantations. Regions with tropical and subtropical climate have gained many investments in these sectors because of the advantages of growing eucalyptus in mild climates, such as the Cantabrian coast of Spain. Some of those regions are economically depressed and need investments for generating jobs and income. However, much initial optimism on the limitless benefits of the eucalyptus has faced a growing conflicts and confrontation with environmentalists and civil society groups, and even governments, such as in the municipality of Pontevedra in Galicia (Spain).

Explaining why those conflicts happen and how conflicts vary according to the context were the main objectives of this research. There is no consensus over the social and environmental impacts of eucalyptus, thus the research did not aim to determine whether or not eucalyptus plantations contribute positively or negatively to the development of local communities, but to understand under what conditions the tree is perceived as beneficial or negative to local development.

Similar plantations can have different perceptions in different societies. Perceptions over certain issues are socially constructed and change over time. One interesting point for this research is that resistance to eucalyptus appears in some regions, but not in others. A comparison between two cases with contrasting perceptions over eucalyptus helped to explain differences in stakeholder perceptions. A qualitative research comprehending of secondary data collection and dozens of interviews with policymakers and stakeholders of the eucalyptus industry was carried out in the autonomous communities in Galicia and Asturias in Spain.

Factors, such as the scale of the eucalyptus plantation, its management and whom the plantation benefits directly, affect the perceptions. Places where the plantation came in large scale affecting the views of or shading populated areas tended to suffer string resistance. However, evidence from this research points out that historical and cultural aspects largely explain the differences in perception. For example, where the pulp industry caused significant environmental impacts (e.g. odour and water pollution) to a large urban population in the past, such as Pontevedra, stakeholders associated Eucalyptus with environmental degradation and kept this view even with positive environmental changes in the firm recently. The history is also an important factor to explain the differences. Regions more affected by the past forestry policy of the Franco dictatorship tended to have more resistance to eucalyptus.

This research is important for professionals and researchers in development studies, forest sciences, management and planning because there is a large expansion of eucalyptus plantations all over the world since last century, but there is no consensus over the way to promote them and their economic, social and environmental effects. There is a black-and-white discussion whether eucalyptus is evil or good. The project avoided being trapped in this discussion and moves the debate to understand why differences in stakeholders' perception happen and how perceptions are constructed and change over time.