The evergreen trees provide shelter and fodder for livestock, which prompt people to protect it from pest attacks
Sriganganagar, Rajasthan: For the farmers of Rajasthan, khejri (Prosopis cineraria) is much more than the state tree. It serves as fodder for livestock, firewood for households, vegetable for personal consumption and manure for fields.
Lakhs of khejri trees are found in the fields of Rajasthan, but they did face an existential crisis about three decades ago due to pest attacks. The crisis is not yet over, but the tree’s existence is intact due to the coordinated efforts of farmers and government departments.
A pathologist with the forest protection division of Jodhpur-based Arid Forest Research Institute (AFRI), Dr Sangeeta Singh told 101Reporters that they had launched a seven-year research in 2010 to understand the factors contributing to the mortality of khejri trees and offer possible solutions.
“We concluded that there are two biotic factors — a root rot fungus (Ganoderma lucidum) and a root borer (Acanthophorus serraticornis) — behind this issue. We also studied the abiotic factors at play, including falling water level and ploughing of fields with tractors."
Once the research concluded, the AFRI issued advisories and shared solutions with farmers to ensure the protection of khejri trees, while also promising returns to them. The advisory told farmers not to prune trees every year, and instead do it every alternate year.
Trees that were fully damaged were destroyed along with their roots so that the infection does not spread. Soil treatment and Bavistin insecticide in small quantities were also used from time to time.
Farmer Sitaram Sengwa from Jodhpur’s Palri Ranavata village said he kept spraying insecticides that the scientist recommended and got good results. ‘I have planted thar shobha khejri, developed by the ICAR-Central Institute for Arid Horticulture, Bikaner. Fortunately, there is no pest infestation on it so far.”
Dhannaram Nayak, the secretary of Nagaur-based NGO Urmul Khejadi Sansthan said farmers dig pits around the trees and provide pesticides and water, which reduce pest infestation. “Sadaram, a farmer who passed away two years ago, used to put millet husk instead of pesticides, which made the trees healthier,” he added.
Krishnakumar Saharan from Saharan ki Dhani in Hanumangarh said unlike in the past, farmers take care to not disturb the khejri plant while ploughing the fields. “Sometimes, we remove them and replant in another place,” he said.
The tree has great significance in rituals too, be it birth, marriage or death. "Green khejri twigs are placed in an urn filled with water as part of the nahaun ritual following childbirth. The tree’s wood is used for havan (a fire ritual) for marriage ceremonies. It also forms the funeral pyre,” said Nayak, a resident of Jhareli.
Every part works
Lakhs of khejri trees are present in the districts of Nagaur, Bikaner, Ajmer, Churu, Barmer, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Pali, Sirohi, Jalore, Hanumangarh, Sriganganagar, Jaipur, Karauli, Sikar and Jhunjhunu due to the community involvement.
“Khejri is a friend of farmers. They complement each other. When other trees wilt in the scorching desert heat, evergreen khejri shelters humans, animals and birds,” Padma Shri Himmataram Bhambhu told 101Reporters.
Farmers sell the legume (sangri) as a vegetable and leaves (loong) as livestock fodder. Chinkara, black buck and nilgai from the wild also feed on its leaves, while birds make nests on the tree.
“I have 25 bighas of agricultural land. Besides the yield from crops, I also earn from around 500 khejri trees standing in my plot. From one tree, I get 35 to 40 kg of green sangri, which upon drying gives around 7 kg. Green legume is sold for Rs 80 to 100 per kg, while its dry version will fetch Rs 300 to 400 per kg. Traders, on the other hand, sell it for Rs 1,000 to 2,000 per kg,” said Sitaram Sengwa.
Sengwa has been selling loong for Rs 1,700 to 1,800 per quintal this year. He sells around 10,000 khejri saplings every year from a nursery established in his field under the guidance of scientists at AFRI. The cost of one sapling is 90 paise.
Kaluram Joshi, a farmer from Halasar in Churu district, has 110 bighas of land. He gets sangri, loong and firewood in abundance from about 500 khejri trees present in his plot. Jagdish Nayak of Nagaur also gets similar benefits.
“I have 60 khejri trees that provide fodder for my 350 sheep and camels. I do not have to buy them feed. They also give more milk as they eat leaves, which translates into better income for me,” said Diparam Rabari from Langera in Barmer.
Khejri’s bark and flowers have been in use for several centuries to cure various diseases. “In Vedas, it is mentioned as shami tree. According to scriptures, it can treat conditions related to phlegm and bile. Mix its bark with hartaal (a mineral) and apply to remove unwanted hair. Its leaves and bark are used to treat diarrhoea, dysentery, piles and worm infection. It is useful in the treatment of respiratory and skin diseases and blood gall as well,” Gopal Sharma, Assistant Director, Department of Ayurveda, Nagaur, told 101Reporters.
Positive effect on crops
According to Kashiram Saharan, an elderly farmer from Saharan ki Dhani in Hanumangarh district, 78 khejri trees are present in his 60 bighas of land. “In the fields with khejri, yields from crops such as pearl millet and cluster beans are excellent,” he claimed.
Confirming this, Dr Sangeeta Singh explained, “Rhizobium bacteria attach itself to the roots of leguminous plants and help fix atmospheric nitrogen, which is converted into ammonia. Khejri roots also have this bacteria’s presence, which helps the plant to utilise the produced ammonia for its growth.”
Thanks to its numerous benefits, people love khejri. Last year, when 250 khejri and rohida trees were cut in Badi Sid village of Phalodi in Jodhpur district for a proposed solar power plant of AMP Energy Green Four Private Limited, the community launched an agitation and moved the National Green Tribunal (NGT). Based on a report from its fact-finding team, the NGT held the company guilty of illegal felling and imposed a fine of Rs 2 lakh. It also ordered that the company should plant 2,500 trees.
Mukhram Kathpal, an activist of Urmul Setu Sansthan functioning at Lunkaransar in Bikaner district, said, “Khejri is the only support of the people in the desert. It does not dry up even during famine and nurtures people. In our place, neither a farmer uses an axe on a khejri nor allows anyone to do so. If a person dares to harm the tree, they will report it to the police and forest departments.”
Cover photo - Diparam Rabari, a farmer and cattle herder from Langera village in Barmer district (Photo sourced by Amarpal Singh Verma, 101Reporters)
Edited by Rekha Pulinnoli
This article is a part of 101Reporters' series The Promise Of Commons. In this series, we explore how judicious management of shared public resources can help the ecosystem as well as the communities inhabiting it.
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