Palampur (Himachal Pradesh), June 8 (IANS) The cold deserts of the Indian Himalayas where the survival of many flora species is minimal may soon see massive plantations of seabuckthorn – a medicinally rich plant – in a move that is expected to help check soil erosion and benefit farmers economically.
A long-term national policy aims to start seabuckthorn plantation in high-altitude areas spanning 75,000 sq km in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
The policy has been prepared jointly by scientists of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Palampur-based Chaudhary Sarwan Kumar Himachal Pradesh Krishi Vishwavidyalaya.
‘The environment and forests ministry has decided to hold a meeting at the DRDO institute in Leh June 25 to formulate a plan of action in five Himalayan states,’ Virendra Singh, a senior seabuckthorn scientist at the Vishwavidyalaya, told IANS.
‘We have prepared a national policy on seabuckthorn development programme to address issues like soil erosion, environment conservation and integrated rural development of border areas by involving local communities in its plantation.’
He said the policy, with a 10-year and 30-year roadmap, had already been discussed threadbare with Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh and he has decided to hold the meeting this month to chalk out a plan.
‘Seabuckthorn afforestation will not only help in the conservation of the Himalayas by checking soil erosion but its commercial cultivation will also be economically beneficial for farmers because of its medicinal properties.
‘Its extract is used for making life-saving drugs for cardiovascular diseases, ulcer and cancer,’ Singh said.
The problem of soil erosion is acute in most rivers originating from the Himalayas like the Satlej, Indus and Chenab, especially during the rainy season, he said.
Globally, some 40 countries have in the past 20 years joined the race for seabuckthorn development and its commercial utilisation, he added.
DRDO scientists R.C. Sawhney and S.K. Dwivedi have also been associated with formulating the national policy on seabuckthorn.
‘Huge chunks of barren land in possession of forest departments in the Himalayan states would also be used for seabuckthorn plantation and it would accelerate the ecological rehabilitation of degraded mountainous lands,’ Singh said.
Aerial seeding, participation of the local communities in the programme and commercial utilisation for the benefits of the farmers are among the issues to be discussed in finalising the national plan, he added.
However, a scientist associated with the programme, on condition of anonymity, complained that it took 20 years to organise a national meeting to formulate policies for seabuckthorn development in India, whereas China has already planted seabuckthorn in over three million hectares of mountainous land in 19 states.
‘Even Pakistan has done massive afforestation of seabuckthorn, including aerial seeding in Skurdu,’ he said.
Forest ministers of five beneficiary Himalayan states along with officials, vice chancellors, directors and seabuckthorn experts of various research and development institutions have been invited for a June 25 meeting to formulate the seabuckthorn development plan.
Vishwavidyalaya vice chancellor Tej Pratap said: ‘This project would bring a revolution in the rugged, cold and inhospitable Himalayan terrains.’
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)