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Why Himachal Pradesh wants to start seabuckthorn plantations

The Himachal Pradesh government has decided to start planting seabuckthorn in the cold desert areas of the state this year, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur announced in his budget speech last week. We explain the ecological and medical benefits of this bush.

What is seabuckthorn?

It’s a shrub which produces an orange-yellow coloured edible berry. In India, it is found above the tree line in the Himalayan region, generally in dry areas such as the cold deserts of Ladakh and Spiti. In Himachal Pradesh, it is locally called chharma and grows in the wild in Lahaul and Spiti and parts of Kinnaur.

According to the Seabuckthorn Association of India, around 15,000 hectares in Himachal, Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh are covered by this plant.

What are the ecological, medicinal and economical benefits of the seabuckthorn plant?

As a folk medicine, seabuckthorn has been widely used for treating stomach, heart and skin problems. In the last few decades, scientific research worldwide has backed many of its traditional uses. “Its fruit and leaves are rich in vitamins, carotenoids and omega fatty acids, among other substances, and it can help troops in acclimatising to high-altitude,” said Dr Virendra Singh, a professor at the agriculture university in Palampur and general secretary of the Seabuckthorn Association of India.

Besides being an important source of fuelwood and fodder, seabuckthorn is a soil-binding plant which prevents soil-erosion, checks siltation in rivers and helps preserve floral biodiversity. “In the Lahaul valley, where willow trees are dying in large numbers due to pest attack, this hardy shrub is a good alternative for protecting the local ecology,” he said.

Seabuckthorn also has commercial value, as it is used in making juices, jams, nutritional capsules etc. “But wild seabuckthorn cannot sustainably supply raw material to the industry, and the plant needs to be cultivated on a large scale as is being done in China,” said Singh.

What is the latest project?

The seabuckthorn association wants the forest departments of various Himalayan states/UTs to plant seabuckthorn on arid and marginal lands using compensatory afforestation or CAMPA funds.

Recently, the union ministry of environment, forest and climate change asked these states to submit proposals for taking up such plantations, “especially in the light of reduced water flow from Himalayan glaciers and its impact on ecology”.

The Himachal CM has now announced that seabuckthorn will be planted on 250 hectares in the state over the next five years.

The association, however, is not pleased. “The shrub needs to be planted on at least 2,500 hectares in the state for the project to be viable, and so we’ll be requesting the chief minister to increase the area under the project,” said Singh.



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