A weed maligned

A fearsome weed in the Rann of Kutch is hardly, as is feared, sucking the land to death

 
Published: Monday 31 October 1994

-- IF WE are to believe K K Seth's declamations on Prosopis chilensis , it is a perfect Dracula of a weed, devilishly draining an already gasping Rann of Kutch of life-giving water (see Down to Earth, August 31, 1994). But actual facts point in quite a different direction. There is no doubt that Prosopis chilensis, or Prosopisjulifora, is a weed, but certainly not of the villainous variety which many experts make it out to be.

The much-maligned weed is a legume belonging to the Mimosaceae family. In the plant kingdom, legumes are the friends of the earth; they combat desertification and remain evergreen even in the worst kind of degraded soils. Of course, if there are no checks on its growth, it becomes a potential destroyer.

Although an objcct of intense dislike the world over because of its invasive and water-guzzling tendencies, the weed is, ironically enough, endowed with an endearing name. It is popularly known as the honey mesquite, which denotes a syrupy-sweet concentrate of honey. The tree is without equal in its lush and exuberantly green foliage, with strong and stubby thorns.

More to the point, the honey mesquite can hardly be harmful. In fact, given its wide variety of usage as fuel, fodder, a shelter belt and green manure, it is definitely an urgent neccessity.

Investigations carried out at the Oil Technological Research Institute (o,rju), Anantpur, have established that the fruits (pods) collected from mature honey mesquite trees show a remarkably high content of edible sugars, fibre and proteins. The seed has an oil content of 3-4 per cent, which could be recovered by the solvent extraction process. If economics so permit, this oil could be refined, bleached and deodorised to produce an edible grade oil ofa potentially good quality.

Again, a scheme to collect the innumerable pods litit the ground in the dry season cc@uld provide employn opportunities to the rural poor. The seeds collected in fashion should be harnessed for the recovery of fatty oil proteins. Interestingly, the onset of the honey mesquite has brought about a dramatic ena,to the mill bush, or I tree spurge (Euphoria tirucalli), another xerophyte, natn India, and wildly available all over the arid and semiregions. Now this xerophyte has become a rarity.

It is not correct to state that'the pods of the mesquite are harmful and can kill 'animals. These pods variety of functions. The spongy walls of the ripened highly nutritious, a fair source of digestible proteins important as livestock feed. The pods are also used as a food by the villagers, but after the removal of the seed coarser portions. They are ground into a meal and made cakes, or used in the preparation of an alcoholic beverapt seeds of the honey mesquite are ground to a fine powder used in the preparation of bread. Its foliage can also be um livestock feed, both fresh and as hay. Gum recovered pods is used as an emulsifying agent in foods.

The timber of this remarkable plant is used in ham building and turnery and also for fenceposts. A pro manufacturing hardboard sheets has also been invente& wood, roots and bark contain tannins and provide scC" multiple applications in industry.

Perhaps the only drawback of the honey mesquite pia the attraction it has for mosquitoes. The tree prov co lent sanctuary, and with its spread, the mosquito menaw reached daunting proportions. Ifthat can be taken can I would say that the so-called "weed" has been unnecesm given a bad name.

--- G Azeemoddin is a director at the Oil Technological Rese Institute, Anantpur.

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