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Garo Hills faces threat of losing its vital plant genetic resources due to destruction of forests

Conservation of plant genetic resources need of the hour

TURA: The once lush green forests of Garo Hills, home to a vast variety of indigenous plants and crops, are under threat of being wiped out in a matter of a few decades due to the ongoing destruction of its eco-system and the clearance of forest cover to make way for plantations like arecanut and other farming methods.
In a positive move that is targeted at conservation of the plant genetic resources of the region, a two day workshop was organised at Tura which had the participation of top agriculture and genetic scientists from the country to discuss ways and means to preserve and conserve the traditional and original plants from this region.
West Garo Hills Deputy Commissioner, Ram Singh, in his interaction with the participants said that one of the crucial steps to check the continuing destruction of the plants and its genetic set up is to create awareness at the village level.
“Garo Hills has a very fragile ecological system. The danger posed to the region by the disappearance of its original flora is extremely high. Once destroyed it cannot be brought back. Which is why this message of conservation of the traditional plants needs to reach the villages,” said Mr Singh.
The deputy commissioner, who is an active environmentalist and has been regularly trekking through the forests, particularly the Nokrek National biosphere, pointed out that in many of his trips it was found that virgin forest cover was being cleared to make way for plantations, particularly arecanut.
“This clearance of the jungle is leading to destruction of existing plants and its genetic resources. Several number of the world famous original citrus plants like Citrus Indica found in the Nokrek biosphere are dying due to changes in the eco-system. We need to be worried and take up steps to contain this destruction,” a concerned deputy commissioner told the gathering.
This wild orange plant is believed to be one of the ancestors of today’s cultivated citrus fruits, if not the main one. It is considered to be the most primitive citrus and can be used as a citrus rootstock for cultivated citrus.
Recent searches of the plant’s reported home range confirmed its presence only in Meghalaya, where it grows in the Garo Hills’s Nokrek biosphere region.
The plant, which requires a specific micro-climate, is a highly endangered species and threat to it has been from habitat destruction caused by jhumming and clearance of jungles for plantations.
The director of India’s leading organization on plant genetics, Dr Kuldeep Singh of the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, New Delhi, revealed that although 4,36,000 different varieties of seeds have so far been collected in India for preservation of its genetics, much needs to be done particularly in the north eastern region which is home to thousands of indigenous plants.
“The danger is the disappearance of these plants in a few decades and we may lose forever what nature has given us. That is why our target is to conserve for the future,” said Dr Singh.
According to Dr Narendra Prakash, Director of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Shillong North Eastern Region, another danger posed to disappearance of vital plants is the extraction and illegal export of many medicinal plants from the north east into neighbouring China.
“In many areas villagers are taking away crucial indigenous medicinal plants for export to China where there is a very high demand for them. There is an urgent need to protest and conserve the genetic resources of the region,” said the ICAR director.
The Dean of College of home Science, Tura, Dr Pushpita Das informed that scientists have identified that the husk of the arecanut plant found in Garo Hills is of a superior quality and research is underway to see if it can be blended with silk and cotton.
In the face of widespread concern over the damage taking place to the fragile ecosystem of the region, some positive steps are being taken such as the establishment of two Krishi Vigyan Kendras, agriculture extension centres, at Megagre and Chokpot, East and South Garo Hills respectively.
This would go to an extend in helping farmers get awareness about their crops and the fragile ecological system surrounding them.

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