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Field Notes

Seabuckthorn – ideally suited for Himalayan highlands

Small agriculture fields near to the natural pockets of Seabuckthorn in Yamunotri Valley of Uttarakhand
Small agriculture fields near to the natural pockets of Seabuckthorn in Yamunotri Valley of Uttarakhand

Hippophae salicifolia commonly known as Seabuckthorn is one of the few potential lesser-known multipurpose plant species, native of higher Himalaya. The people in high mountainous areas have been growing seabuckthorn without being aware of its overall benefits. Major traditional uses of Seabuckthorn in high mountainous cold and dry zone of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh are fuelwood, fodder for goats and cattle (nutritious forage), fencing to protect fruit trees/nurseries/orchards, maintenance of traditional irrigation channel besides soil conservation, improving fertility/quality timber, useful for newly opened areas etc.

The plant is also very well known for outstanding ability to fix nitrogen directly from the air through root nodules. It was estimated that about 180 kg of nitrogen per hectare per annum can be fixed in the soil around Seabuckthorn forests. Generally, these plants grow wild and get rotten in mountain areas. As the plant increases the fertility of the soil, farmers destroy these plants and normally cultivate potatoes and other food crops. All organic and mineral materials derived from Hippophae plant can improve the soil’s physico-chemical properties. Its root system makes it suitable tobe planted even in the fragile slopes. An observation made in most of the cultivated areas showed that a 5 years old plant has a tap root of about 5 meters deep.

Its genetic characters such as wide ecological adaptation, fast growth, strong coppicing and suckering habit coupled with efficient nitrogen fixation makes this plant well suited in soil and water conservation, soil improvement and marginal lands reclamation. Studies have shown that this plant promotes the growth of poplars, pines and other tree species in mixed stands.

Though, seabuckthorn is a multipurpose and vital species for mountain-rural poor, it is one of the least known and unexplored and underutilized plant species in Himalayan states. There is an urgent need to promote Seabuckthorn as an agro forestry crop particularly in higher altitude areas. The collective efforts of research and development organizations, in true partnership with local communities will raise awareness and stimulate communities to plant this tree species. This can result in improved food security, nutrition, health and income for the rural poor.

For mp contact Deepak Dhyani at drddhyani@gmail.com

Save arid zone agroforestry trees from biotic stresses

Dry land areas of Western India experiences frequent droughts and famines besides harsh climatic conditions. To reduce the impact of adverse abiotic conditions, the desert dwellers have evolved age-old practices to boost the crop production and their other needs such as fodder, fuel, fruits and timber though mixing woody perennials in their farming system. Their ingenuity, according to climatic and edaphic features has selected various drought hardy and multipurpose species of trees or shrubs for sustainable production and conservation of environment. In normal years of rainfall this system provides sustainable crop for their food and fodder production for livestock while under adverse conditions they are able to harvest top feed, fuel, fruits and other economically important products from perennial plants.

Prosopis tree
Prosopis tree

Arid zone vegetation comprises a wide range of trees including edible fruit bearing, food producing and woodcarving tree species. Khejri (Prosopis cineraria) tree is called Kalptaru. It increases the soil fertility, availability of fuel, timber, vegetables to human being, green fodder to animals, and shade to all creatures during scorching heat in summer. Its cultural, economic and socioreligious values have been noticed in performing many of the rituals and rites in various sections of arid zone society. Similarly, utility of timber products of ‘Rohira-a Marwar Teak Wood Tree’ of desert in improving their economic conditions is well known. Now, woodcarving industry has emerged as an important source of income to local artisans. These woody perennials are an integral component of integrated farming system and ‘Gohar/Oran’ lands. Trees have provided food and shelter to man since ages. About 20% of the xerophytes have direct utility to mankind.

The trees and shrubs in the arid zone have adopted various strategies to endure abiotic stresses such as intense heat, high evapotranspiration rate and long dry spells. Besides abiotic stresses, pest and diseases are the other major biotic constraints. Recent outbreak of diseases, alarm the situation even in arid zone climatic conditions warrant timely planning. For instance, sudden death of P. cineraria in large proportion is a matter of serious concern and needs attention. Under these situations non-chemical methods such as cultural and biocontrol measures need to be used. Trees like Khejri, Rohira, Kumat, Israeli babul, Babul, Khara Jhal, Mitha Jhal and Neem are vulnerable to pest and diseases from seedlings stage to the stage of complete maturation of the tree. However, the biodiversity inherent in multiple cropping and multiple cultivar traditional farming systems enhances resistance or tolerance to various pest and diseases.

Our ultimate vision is to protect the trees from abiotic to biotic stresses to support the life of this part of planet for our children. Trees must be planted, cared and conserved as they represent historical significance to people as well as events. Such programmes will help to offset the impact of deforestation. In recent years, the public movement such as ‘Chipko Movement’ not only inspired numerous people to work on practical programmes of water management, energy conservation, afforestation, and recycling, but also encouraged scholars to start studying issues of environmental degradation and methods of conservation in the arid parts of India. Thus protecting trees from manmade and natural hazards will boost the greenery and conservation of valuable biodiversity present in arid zone.

For more information, contact R Raj Bhansali at rikhab51@gmail.com

Cinamomum tamala – A multipurpose potential agroforestry tree Species in Uttarakhand

Farmers grow multipurpose trees all along the farm boundary as living fences as well as wind breaks species. Tree is planted as hedgerows between rows of agricultural crops to improve soil fertility, to slow down run off and reduce soil erosion.

Farmers in Bhugiaghat, Dogra, Robraand Chopra villages in Uttarakhand mostly grow Wheat, Paddy, Maize and other vegetables. With their average land holdings being small Cinamomum trees are grown on the farm bunds of agricultural fields. Cinamomum tamala (locally known as Tejpat) also known as Indian cassia or Indian Bay leaf, is a food flavoring spice, also having medicinal properties. Around 700 farmers are growing around 500 Tejpat trees per hectare of land.

Tejpat is a potential tree in enhancing the economy of small and marginal farmers in Uttarakhand. Systematic and scientific steps are needed to restore it to its past glory and make it popular worldwide. A change in the methods of cultivation, harvesting, post harvest techniques and oil extraction of Tejpat is needed. Work has to be carried out in co-ordination with farmers and scientists at large in the country. It is important to emphasize that a proper interaction between villagers, agriculture department, NGOs, institutions, and government agencies need to be facilitated. A people centered approach should be implemented based on farmers needs.

For more information, contact Narayan Singh at naturewithnary@gmail.com

PIPLA – Enhanced livelihood opportunities for tribal communities of Eastern Ghat region

Women harvesting Pipla roots
Women harvesting Pipla roots

Pipla (Long Pepper or Piper longum) is a medicinal plant cultivated in the hills of Eastern Ghats of Odisha state in Koraput dist. It is mostly cultivated in the area bordering to Andhra Pradesh. About 6 decades back, tribals were cultivating the plants in patches in the hills and also collecting from the forest. Traders from Andhra Pradesh started buying the Pipla roots from the tribal farmers in the villages. This led to a gradual increase in the cultivation of the crop across the area. In the mean time, the Department of Forests notified Pipla as a forest produce and prohibited its cultivation.

But over time, Pipla was deleted from the list of forest produce, paving way for its large-scale cultivation. Usually planting is undertaken during the rainy season in the months of July-Aug when there is enough moisture present in the soil. Pipla is grown under organic conditions. Pipla farmers in the region usually apply 10-20 truckloads of compost per acre. Compost is either made available from the cattle owned by the farmers or purchased from nearby villages. Since the quantity required is high and cannot be met from an individual’s cattle population, it is sourced from different farmers. Intercropping is also done in the fields of Pipla during its three years of gestation period. Crops like brinjal, tomato, cucumber, chilli, papaya, turmeric, ginger, beans etc. are cultivated. On an average, yield of 6 quintals of roots is harvested from an acre of plantation.

In 1960s the farmers used to sell the Pipla carrying head loads to Madugula, a village in Vishakhapatnam district of Andhara Pradesh, where the transportation facility in those days was very limited.Gradually the market shifted to Vantalamamidi to Padalu to Paderu to Gutuluput in 1980 and finally Pedabayulu in 1985 and till date continuing. Pedabayalu weekly market is the most potential place for Pipla marketing not only for the producer but also for the trader.

Processing of Pipla also provides a lot of employment to local labour. For instance, Mr. Venkata Rao engages 30 skilled labours on a regular basis to work at the processing unit. Also nearly 150 to 170 labour are engaged in their respective houses processing pipla, on weekly payment basis. Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Delhi, Kanpur, Chennai are the main centers for marketing of processed Pipla.Gujarat state consumes the most quantity of processed pipla.

For more information, contact S V Ramana at sana_ramana@yahoo.com