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Himachal tribes to grow wonder plant
September 19, 2005 12:01 IST
Last Updated: September 19, 2005 12:20 IST
After years of experiments, the successful plantation of Seabuckthorn in cold deserts of Himachal Pradesh's tribal areas of Kinnaur and Lahaul Spiti opened the doors for prosperity of tribal people who are being encouraged to grow the 'wonder plant'.
The cold deserts in pooh area of Kinnaur district and Spiti area of Lahaul and Spiti district, where minimum temperature dips to minus 40 degrees during peak winter, are bereft of any vegetation and are perpetually short of fuel wood, food and fodder.
The efforts made earlier to provide green cover to the cold deserts under desert development programme resulted in developing green patches only in some isolated pockets but SBT is an ideal plant for cultivation in such harsh and hostile weather conditions.
SBT is a deciduous shrub, widely distributed in cold deserts having extensive root system for soil stabilisation, nitrogen fixing ability for fertility, highest Vitamin C content, best quality fuel wood and fodder and high economic value of fruit and seed oil for variety of cosmetics, medicines and beverages.
The plant can withstand extreme temperatures ranging between minus 60 degrees celsius and 40 degrees celsius and grow in dry, arid zones with 300 millimeters rainfall.
The climatic conditions in the cold desert area were most suitable for cultivation of SBT and there was tremendous potential for growing this plant.
Except for China and Russia, which had developed SBT as a major horticultural and agro-industrial crop, this wonder plant has remained neglected.
The cold and dry zones of Himachal are quite rich in resource base but the mountain development policy and other development agencies did not focus on use of this resource base.
However, the state council for science, technology and environment initiated work on this plant and the survey conducted by scientists revealed that the cold and dry zones of parts of Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti and Pangi area of Chamba had a rich resource base and genetic diversity of SBT and possibility of more genetic variability within SBT can not be ruled out.
So far three species of SBT namely h. rhamnoides, h. tibetana and h. salicifolia and sub species turkestanica had been identified and successfully cultivated in cold dry zones.
The major pool areas of SBT in Himachal are Darcha, Kardang, Sissoo, Gondla and Jahalman in Lahaul, Pin, Shego, Tabo, Kaza, Mane, Kibber, Rangreek and Chichung in Spiti, Baspa valley in Sangla, Chitkul and Pooh.
Baspa, Bhaga and Kaza valleys have unique plant species of SBT with fewer thorns, dense fruiting and large fruits that can be identified and selected for promotion on commercial and industrial scale.
The SBT is used as fuel wood, fencing around fields and houses and fodder while herbal doctors used the plant for curing lung diseases and headache. It is also used for making wines and jams but these practices have now become almost extinct due to commercialisation of agriculture and availability of other options.
The council has also initiated an action plan for identification of additional species, awareness programmes, extension activities and demonstration experiments and the state departments and other agencies were making efforts to actively involve the people in promotion and cultivation of SBT.
The deputy commissioner of Lahaul and Spiti has organised a series of meetings with the tribal people to popularise this plant and made cultivation of SBT compulsory in at least a two-hectare area in each desert development project.
Experts and environmentalists feel that keeping in view the Chinese experience, the potential of SBT should be fully explored for developing it as an agro-industrial crop which would also help in vegetation rehabilitation and more job opportunities for poor tribal people who had limited options.