Keylong (Himachal Pradesh), Oct 19 (Calcutta Tube) The rugged, inhospitable terrain of this landlocked valley in Himachal Pradesh is sought to be greened with plantations of seabuckthorn, a medicinally rich plant, that will not only help check soil erosion but also benefit the local people economically.
‘A huge patch of land near Keylong (the district headquarters of Lahaul and Spiti district) has been greened with the plantation of seabuckthorn,’ said a survey conducted by D.S. Thakur, a senior scientist with the Palampur-based Chaudhary Sarwan Kumar Himachal Pradesh Krishi Vishwavidyalaya.
The report, which IANS has accessed, said the plantation was carried out on 67.5 bighas of land (one bigha is 0.4 hectare) in April-May this year and so far the survival rate of plants was 49 percent, reasonably high in places where the temperature remains below freezing point for more than six months in a year.
The plantation was carried out by the agricultural university as part of a Rs.40 million ($900,000) seabuckthorn project of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).
The four-year project that began in October 2008 has allocated 90 percent of the total budget for research and studies, while the remaining amount is for plantations, mainly by the local farmers.
The report said that initially 27,800 plants were raised last year in a nursery at Kukumseri near Keylong and these were distributed in April among the farmers for plantation on both forest and private lands.
It said the university targets to raise around 80,000 plants in the nursery for plantation in March-April next year.
Another senior scientist working on the project said the survey showed that mortality was higher in individual plantations than those taken up by communities.
He said plant survival in the first year could have been better if there had been proper training and awareness created among the farmers by the university.
‘The farmers were not mobilised properly. The training of the farmers at the nursery was lacking. All this resulted in the lack of proper post-plantation care,’ the scientist said, requesting anonymity.
University officials said the matter was brought to the notice of then vice chancellor Tej Pratap in 2009, but there was no intervention from him to monitor the training work.
Vice-Chancellor S.K. Sharma told IANS: ‘There were some initial hiccups with the seabuckthorn project. I have asked the director research to review all the National Agriculture Innovation Projects, including seabuckthorn. Things will improve and will give better results in the coming years.’
Globally, some 40 countries have opted for seabuckthorn cultivation and its commercial utilisation.
Studies say seabuckthorn plantations would not only help in checking soil erosion but its commercial cultivation can also be economically beneficial for farmers because of its medicinal properties. Its extracts are used for making life-saving drugs for cardiovascular diseases, ulcers and cancer.
The central government in July launched another project for seabuckthorn cultivation in high altitude areas in five districts – Leh and Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir, Lahaul and Spiti and Kinnaur districts in Himachal Pradesh and Chamoli in Uttarakhand – to check soil erosion.
The Leh and Kargil projects are an extension of one already under way in Ladakh by which seabuckthorn is being successfully marketed as a beverage under the Lehberry brand.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)