The story of a golden tree

Gliricidia trees growing around the ICRISAT field bunds. Showkat Rather/ ICRISAT

Gliricidia trees growing around the ICRISAT field bunds. Showkat Rather/ ICRISAT

We should all agree with the fact that our world has been beautifully and wisely planned, which is the reason that the earth still exists and hosts us and all other living and non-living things, even after billions of years of existence.

Although not verified exactly, it is believed that life on earth has existed for about 3.7 billion years. So the question is, what has made life go on for such a long time?

In order to survive, we all depend on and mutually benefit from each other. Humans benefit from trees and plants, plants benefit from humans and animals, and in turn animals benefit from plants ─ we call this ‘symbiotic association’.

But over the past few years, there is something we have needed to give some serious thought. Imagine a world without forests, water resources, fertile land, livestock or aquatic life. If we don’t take care of our land, forests and water, our future generations may not be able to enjoy the comforts and benefits of earth that we are enjoying right now.

All the trees on earth have either a direct or indirect impact on humans, animals and other living creatures. There are thousands of tree species that benefit us, and one of them is the Gliricidia sepium, which is one of the world’s fastest-growing tropical legume trees. In many parts of world such as the West Indies, West Africa, Central America, Mexico and across tropical areas of the Americas, it is one of the best-known multipurpose trees. Apart from being used for timber, hedges, medicinal purposes, charcoal, live fences and plantation shade, the tree is highly beneficial for the stabilization of soil and makes great green manure.

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), under the agroforestry systems, promotes the Gliricidia. In collaboration with the Andhra Pradesh Rural Livelihoods Program and Asian Development Bank (ADB), Philippines, ICRISAT is helping to popularize the concept of raising Gliricidia on farm bunds and using it as green leaf manure for farms. This work is being done under the ICRISAT-led project called Bhoochetana, meaning land rejuvenation.

Some of the characteristics of Gliricidia are:

  • It is a green leaf manure tree about 12 meters in height
  • Its foliage can be used as green manure or natural fertilizer
  • It has a modulating nitrogen-fixing root
  • It grows quickly and is tolerant to pruning
  • It can thrive in dry, moist, acidic, solid or even degraded and infertile soil under rainy conditions
  • Its leaves contain nutrients including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium
  • It adds nutrients and organic matter to soil and increases fertility and productivity

A Gliricidia tree. Showkat Rather/ ICRISAT

One of the best examples of Gliricidia growing around field bunds that I have seen was at the ICRISAT headquarters in Hyderabad, India. All the crops grown at ICRISAT — such as chickpeas, groundnuts, pigeon peas, sorghum and pearl millet — benefit from Gliricidia. Soil becomes fertile, pests and rodents are kept away, and great yields are achieved.

It is highly recommended for farmers to grow Gliricidia on their field bunds, as the tree produces green leaf manure rich in nitrogen and thereby adds organic matter to the soil — one of the best ways to move toward sustainable agriculture.

This is just one example, so you can imagine the benefits of the thousands of other trees that nature has bestowed on us. There is still a large part of the world’s population that uses traditional methods of making medicinal plants to treat various diseases. Even a small percentage of the total trees on this earth would be enough to benefit the whole of humankind and other living creatures.

But wait — 50 years from now, will there be enough forests and water resources, like we have today? Will there be enough food to feed the global population of billions? Will there be enough water to irrigate our agricultural land and to quench our thirst? If we don’t act now, the answer will be a big “no”!

The 2014 Forests Asia Summit in Indonesia is a perfect opportunity to address these issues. We must encourage people, especially youth, to spread the word about saving forests and this world. Contemporary forms of media such as social media will be the best platform to reach out to people and educate them about the benefits of forests and trees.

The whole world is heading toward a tempest of challenges including environmental degradation, soil erosion, climate change and drought, as we speak. We have already seen signs that prove that climate change is happening and it is high time that we act.

Let us all pledge to save forests and plant more trees, otherwise the wisest living beings on this earth will be responsible for the eradication of all of its flora and fauna.

Showkat Nabi Rather is a media officer at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), India.

Leave a Reply