Sustainable agriculture is highly difficult in mountain areas because of fast decreasing soil fertility, high degree of fragile topography and consistent soil and water erosion problems. The frequent land slides in the fragile eco-system often lead to fast depletion existing forest cover. The cold desert in Himachal Pradesh constitutes 42% of the total geographical areas. These areas suffer from acute shortage of fuel wood, fodders apart from soil and water erosion problems. Even though many engineering structures have been raised to protect these fragile eco-system, but all in vain. In these extreme climatic conditions, environmental protection and conservation are Himalayan tasks. Hence the major emphasis and obvious solution is only massive afforestation programme through a soil binding and water conserving plant and that should not only be the long term environmental and resources conservation mechanism but also the best sustainable short term strategy for the mountain people. Here comes the medicinal, cash and soil and water conserving crop/plant Seabuckthorn and locally called as ‘Charma’ (or) Charla in cold desert areas of Lahaul & Spiti, Kinnaur, Pangi, etc,. This crop is commercially cultivated and environmentally well utilized in many countries like China, Mangolia, Pakistan and Russia. This wonder plant also changed the course of direction of yellow river in China and arrests sedimentation in major river dams.
Seabuckthorn has great potential for sustainable environmental protection and commercial exploitation in cold desert areas of Himalayas. This plant is a deciduous shrub, widely distributed in temperate and sub tropical zones of Asia. It withstands extreme temperature ranges from -40°C to +40°C and adapts very well in cold deserts. This plant also has an outstanding ability to conserve water and moisture, apart from fixing atmospheric Nitrogen. This plant grows, flourishes and dies naturally in the valleys and mountain areas and thereby highly fertilizes the soil. It has an extraordinary economic benefits and it would be commercially well exploited. Each and every part of the plants is well utilized. The fruit is the richest source of vitamin ‘C’ on the earth and which is also used as raw material for producing food, cosmetic, medicine etc. The fruit pulp and seeds contain high quality medicinal oil. The fruit skin (after extracting pulp) is utilized for making tea. The leaves from male plant are also commercially used to make tea. The whole plant is an excellent source of fuel wood and fodder. This Seabuckthrorn plant offers an amazing opportunity to mountain farmers for sustainable livelihood by protecting their fragile eco-system by soil and moisture conservation. It also has tremendous value addition properties. This plant is the best option to mitigate the problems of fragile eco-system, economic sustainability of marginal farmers in these mountain areas.
Even though this plant grows naturally in the cold desert area, it has not been given sufficient emphases for its environmental and economic benefits. Since last year the district administration in Lahaul & Spiti is paying much attention for its popularization among the local farmers. Now the Seabuckthorn cultivation has been started under DDPs (Desert Development Projects) through various PIAs (Project Implementing Agencies) in this district. Seabuckthorn society has also been constituted with involvement of local farmers. Now this cultivation of Seabuckthorn has been made as one of the important component in the DDPs. This plant has been adopted as one of the priority species for afforestation programme by forest department in this valley. Subsidy is given for raising Seabuckthorn nurseries, plantation and plant protection under Horticulture Technology Mission.
The district administration organized a workshop on Seabuckthorn in last year and a task force was also constituted under the chairmanship of the Deputy Commissioner Lahaul & Spiti comprising of university (CSK, HP Krishi Vishvidalaya) scientists, DRDA, officials of various departments (i.e. PIAs), progressive farmers, members of Mahila Mandals, Yuvak Mandals and Seabuckthorn society for successful implementation Seabuckthorn cultivation programmes. The entire project has been monitored and executed under the guidance of DRDA. The departments of forest, blocks, agriculture, horticulture and IPH have been actively involved in raising nursery, protection and identification of waste lands for its plantation. CSK HP Krishi Vishva Vidalaya’s research and extension centre at Kukumseri also organizes training camps about Seabuckthorn cultivation and it also raises nursery at Kukumseri. Now emphasis has been given to riase these plants in river sides, on the mountain slopes and on panchayat and Government waste lands. It not only controls soil and water erosion in waste lands but also gives additional economic benefits to the concerned panchayat. Social responsibility has been fixed in the concerned Gram Panchayats, Mahila Mandals and Yuvak Mandals about raising and protection of Seabuckthorn plantation.
The task force also visited Spiti valley, last year where organized Seabuckthorn fruits collection were going on. An NGO named MUSE has been working in Spiti valley since year 2002. With active participation of administration Kaza, local Mahila Mandals and Yuvak Mandals and this NGO, Spiti valley learns to earn its economic livelihood from Seabuckthorn. This plant comes naturally very well along Spiti river side. The State Govt. has established 4 Seabuckthorn processing/pulping units at Rangrik, Shego, Tabo and Shunsha. Hence Spitians market pulp instead of fruits thereby they are earning 2-3 times higher income from pulp than selling of fruits as such. The Mahila Mandals are actively involved in collection of fruits. The Yuvak Mandals are involved for collection of fruits from the spot and transportation to the processing site. Then pulp is extracted and marketed with assistance of the NGO. All the activities are coordinated by the Spiti administration. Now steps have been taken by the Spiti administration for cultivation of Seabuckthorn in waste land under DDP. It also generates lots of economic and employment opportunities for Spitians. The future of Spiti economy now depends on the Seabuckthorn. After the exposure visit of Lahaul people to Spiti, Seabuckthorn propagation, plantation and management practices also get momentum here.
The district administration at Lahaul valley is very actively involved in Seabuckthorn cultivation. Unlike Spiti, Lahaul valley farmers have already been actively engaged in cultivation of Potato and Peas. To emphasise the economic and environmental importance of Seabuckthorn in Lahaul valley, the district administration conducted workshops on Seabuckthorn and took more than 100 farmers to Spiti valley for exposure visit and conducted more than 20 awareness camps at various places through PIAs under DDP in this valley. So far organized efforts have not been made for its propagation, plantation and management practices. Since last year every attempt has been made for its scientific cultivation and commercial exploitation. All the PIAs have been given target to raise Seabuckthorn nurseries. As per target 4 lacs seedings have been raised in poly bags by forest, agriculture, horticulture, blocks and IPH departments. These seedings will be planted next year in the panchayat and Govt. waste lands with active involvement of local farmers. 2-3 lacs seedings have also been raised by individual farmers for plantation in next year. These poly bags seedings may also be purchased from these farmers at fixed rate for plantation under DDP. The district administration has fixed target of 120 hectares of plantation next year by all the PIAs under DDPs. Now the PIAs have been actively involved in identification of the waste land for its plantation. The entire project has been carried out in a win-win situation for both administration and local farmers. With active involvement of administration and farmers, nursery raising and plantation have been carried out in the waste lands to conserve soil and water. Same time the farmers have not been asked to replace the existing potato and peas cultivation with Seabuckthorn. The plantation raised in the waste lands will give economic and environmental benefits within 3-5 years. The entire economic benefits will be harnessed by the local farmers or local Gram Panchayats. This year also more than 20 camps had been conducted to create awareness about nurseries rising. Extensive training has been given to the farmers about rising nursery in poly bags.
Last year a memorandum of understanding (MoU) had been executed between a private company and the Seabuckthorn society. Prices have been fixed for fruits and leaves of male plants at the rate of Rs 25 and Rs 160 per Kg. the amount was also paid on the spot to the farmers. By selling of fruits and leaves this valley earned an amount of Rs 5.5 lacs last year. This year also there is plan to market both fruits and leaves through the society to the private company. The entire process of collection of fruits, leaves and marketing to the company is facilitated by the district administration without any interference.
The state government also sanctioned Rs 11.50 lacs for processing/pulping unit to Lahaul valley this year. Hence the pulp will be extracted from the fruit and by this value addition farmers would be getting 2-3 times higher profits than selling of fruits as such. Now a Seabuckthorn project is under formulations with involvement of district administration, CSK HP Krishi Vishva Vidyalaya for its cultivation, processing and marketing (i.e. field to plate) under NAIP (National Agricultural Innovative Project). The project cost involves approximately Rs 50 crores with an area expansion of 1800 hectares for next 6 years. This project will be submitted to ICAR (Indian Agricultural Research Institute) for its approval in this year.
If we analyze strength of Seabuckthorn cultivation in this valley, it has immense potential for economic and environmental benefits. This valley has more than 80% areas as waste lands. These waste lands will be protected from soil and water erosion apart from enrichment of soil by fixation of atmospheric Nitrogen. The siltation process of rivers will substantially be reduced. The land slides will be prevented. This plant will also change the economic scenario of these tribal farmers. If proper value addition and marketing is done, even it may replace existing cropping pattern. The Panchayats and farmers will get purely an additional income from its cultivation in waste lands. It will also generate employment opportunities to the local youths. As the entire project is covered under DDP it does not involve any investment from the local farmers. By active participation in propagation, plantation and management practices, the panchayat and individual farmers get additional economic benefits apart from the environmental benefits.
As per weakness is concerned the existing Seabuckthorn society has to be strengthened. Unlike Spiti, the society is not much active here. The membership base has to be increased and they have to be actively involved. Value addition to the raw material has not been started yet here. In Lahaul valley still it is perceived as Govt sponsored than the people’s program. Proper scientific technologies have not been developed for its propagation and plantation. This crop has to be researched extensively for its scientific management, tissue culture techniques, plant protection etc.
This plant has an excellent opportunity not only in Lahaul valley but also in the entire colder desert areas of the Himalayan range. Once the plant is established it propagates naturally very fast. Thereby it arrests soil and water erosion and enriches the surrounding environment by fixing atmospheric Nitrogen. It’s plantation near river side not only prevents land slides, but also curtails siltation of major river dams. This plant could be propagated near all the major rivers in the Himalayas. So the Himalayan eco-system will be protected apart from its economic benefits to the local mountain farmers. There are also bigger scopes to establish various small scale industries for its value addition. From the fruits wines, jams, juices, syrup etc could be prepared. It also contains medicinal values for cancer, BP, heart problem, ulcer. Cosmetic and beauty creams could also be prepared from these fruits. Residues of fruit, pulp and leaves could be used as an excellent source of fodder for cattle. It will also generate employment opportunities to the local youths.