Last Updated: Friday 10 July 2015

Splitting weeds

The views of G Azeemoddin in A weed maligned (October 31, 1994) do not conform to the findings of researchers from Texas and my own experience of growing Prosopis chilensis. This weed is inappropriately called "honey mesquite". The species commonly known as honey mesquite include Prosopis glandulosa, Prosopis reptans, Prosopis torreyana and Prosopis velutina, which, to the best of my knowledge, are not found in India.

Although P chilensis is a legume, humans and the flora and fauna derive absolutely no benefit from it. What's more, the weed can be only uprooted by bulldozing. The stubby thorns of the weed do not even permit the use of bulldozers with tyres. So land once infested by it simply has to be abandoned.

P chilensis is not, as Azeemoddin maintains, the only evergreen plant to thrive on degraded soils. Peepal, neem and banyan, for instance, even grow in crevices of walls practically without any water. These trees, once abundant in the area, has been edged out by this weed.

It is surprising how the Oil Technological Research Institute in Anantpur in Andhra Pradesh, of which Azeemoddin is the director, has found its pods to be harmless. The Texas researchers had declared the weed harmful as far back as 1980. Animals consuming these pods may even die. According to studies, the high fibrousness and low protein content of the weed render it a poor quality feed. Whenever I fed my poultry fed on it, they suffered weight loss and egg production declined. Significantly, ranchers in Texas and maldharis (cattlebreeders) in the Kutch share a similar opinion.

It is also a tall claim that villagers are using P chilensis as a staple food. In areas invaded by this weed, not a single villager makes use of the pods. Even alcoholic beverages made from the pods have no commercial value because of an unsavoury flavour and high fibrousness. The livestock refuses to eat the foliage, whether fresh or as hay.

The timber from P chilensis cannot compete with other cheaper and better quality wood used for building houses and furniture. There is not a single industry, either in India or abroad, engaged in manufacturing or marketing any item made of its timber.

A lot of emphasis has been laid on the honey and gum derived from the weed. It must be realised that the common man can do without honey and gum, but he cannot survive without water and fodder for his animals. Unfortunately, this monster weed has dried up all the water sources and reduced fodder production to zero in the Little Rann of Kutch. If it is not replaced with some useful local trees, human survival may become endangered.

The so-called assistance from forest departments and the World Bank for growing P chilensis in the name of social forestry should be immediately be dispensed with.

K K SETH,Dhrangadhra 363 310,Gujarat

In A weed maligned, the author has rightly pointed out that Prosopis chilensis (or Prosopis julifora) is much maligned by amateur naturalists. It is useful for fuel, fodder and other purposes. In arid lands characterised by sandy, rocky, chalky and saline soils, no other tree flourishes except P julifora.

The tree meets 80 per cent of the firewood requirements of the area. Its legumes constitute a nutritive feed for livestock. Blackbuck, nilgai, hare, wolf and monitor lizard flourish in its thickets. Rainfall in P julifora patches is more than 50 per cent higher than in the rest of the desert.

The unwanted growth of this weed may be easily checked by proper lopping and logging. P julifora is free from insects, pests and fungi diseases and from damage by cattle and wild herbivores. It has a amazing survival rate of 95 per cent, as against 15 per cent for other species, in harsh desert conditions, and can be easily grown to develop wasteland.

INDRA KUMAR SHARMA,Jodhpur 342 020,Rajasthan ...

Don't wait for the North

The editorial What Cairo did not discuss (October 15, 1994), suggests that Southern countries should ignore their birth rates and standards of life until the Northern countries are made to consume less. Although an international dialogue is necessary to promote reduced consumption, it is difficult to understand why Southern priorities should be tied to the North's inaction? It's like shooting oneself in the foot to see if the gun is loaded.

It would also help to define "natural resources". If the North consumes less water, how will it assist water shortages in India? Why does the South sell tropical timber to the North? Should the us consume fewer cotton garments from Southern countries? It is time that Southern countries determine their development priorities without waiting for consumption habits to change in the North.

T L ARENS,Kathmandu,Nepal ...

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