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In search of miracle berry in Himalayas: How sea buckthorn is reworking lives in Lahaul

It is a miracle plant crammed with advantages from regulating blood stress to boosting immunity, and maybe that’s why it has even caught the flowery of Prime Minister Narendra Modi

In the land of Chandra and Bhaga rivers, solely the powerful survive. Flanked by snow-peaked mountains, glaciers and little prime soil, the area can actually get you excessive, like 11,000 ft and above. Temperatures vary from sub-zero to 25°C, with heavy snowfall making life very tough right here. Yet, a plant with inexperienced leaves, thorns and succulent orangish berries — sea buckthorn (SBT) — beats the chances. It is a miracle plant crammed with advantages from regulating blood stress to boosting immunity, and maybe that’s why it has even caught the flowery of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The downside is, it’s not accessible to most of us. So, I took a visit to Lahaul valley, which is dwelling to 2 sub-species of sea buckthorn berry — hippophae rhamnoides and hippophae salicifolia — to search out out extra about them. After all, the Modi authorities has designated sea buckthorn as “one-district, one-crop” for the Lahaul area.

But why sea buckthorn? Lahaul areas are native habitat for this nitrogen-fixing shrub. It has a female and male plant. The feminine provides fruits — the ocean buckthorn berries — that are extremely nutritive ‘super food’ loaded with nutritional vitamins, minerals and different medical qualities. Historically, from Greek to Tibetan medicines all have used this miracle berry to heal folks. As this shrub is deep rooted, it helps in local weather mitigation, and water and soil dialog too. It’s additionally typically used as a software for animal-human battle decision. Currently, each a part of the plant is used, leaves used for tea, pulp for juices and jams. And therefore the ‘miracle berry’ title.

Sea buckthorn berries plucked. Image courtesy Indra Shekhar Singh

Coming to Lahaul, the complete valley is crammed with sea buckthorn bushes, particularly alongside the rivers. But at this level of the 12 months, they have been recovering from the winter fruiting, and new shoots hadn’t come. From the highway they appeared lifeless, however actuality was one thing else. Jisspa, 25 km from Keylong, is the place I met Tashi Angrup, a 46-year-old natural farmer. He was an early fowl when it got here to introducing a wide range of crops within the area, however his reference to SBT was totally different. In 2007, he created a two lakh sea buckthorn crops nursery.

“We gave out saplings as part of a desert development programme of the Indian government. Currently, the government has abandoned that policy. Overall, there is no policy for SBT promotion in the area,” Tashi stated. He himself needed to abandon the SBT nurseries because it was suffering from “marketing and lack of government support”.

“The Tino belt is particularly good for SBT, as the berry size is bigger and plants have less thorns,” Tashi added. Now I used to be tempted to take a better look. I drove to Gemoor village and walked to Bhaga river to see the shrubs for myself. On the stroll again, I ended at Sonam Galsung aka Gyan Uncle’s teashop. Born in 1940, Gyan by chance found the ‘miracle berry’ 30-35 years in the past.

In search of miracle berry in Himalayas How sea buckthorn is transforming lives in Lahaul

Gyan uncle in Gemoor. Image courtesy Indra Shekhar Singh

“People within the village didn’t find out about SBT, though it grew in every single place. Once four-five Ladakhi and one foreigner got here to a dhaba to eat. The foreigner spoke Ladakhi. I requested about him, after which I used to be instructed that he has been engaged on SBT for eight years. I recognised that these berries develop right here,” Gyan stated. The subsequent half-an-hour, he took me down reminiscence lane. From promoting his first SBT jam to creating SBT tea. It quickly turned clear that the thorny shrub has had a number of issues, however its potential remains to be unharnessed.

“We don’t get labour as the harvesting season for SBT and peas clash. Plus, it’s also the fodder cutting season. The scarcity fuels wage inflation. And taking berries out of the plant is not easy, due to thorns, one person can at best harvest 3-4 kg a day and for 500 ml juice you need at least one kg of fruit. And if the berries are not processed in a day, they go bad,” Gyan defined.

In search of miracle berry in Himalayas How sea buckthorn is transforming lives in Lahaul

Women processing Seabuckthorn in Miyar. Image courtesy Indra Shekhar Singh

Despite the issue, he alone sells Rs 50-60 thousand value of pulp, every season. Packaging and advertising and marketing have been different troubles plaguing the commerce. After talking with others in Gemoor, it turned clear that almost all of them eat the SBT amongst themselves, and solely little remained for the market. This was a really area of interest product.

Now to know the difficulty higher, I met Tashi. He had spent nearly a decade engaged on SBT. Apart from being a farmer, he was additionally Khardang’s deputy pradhan. “Farmers in Lahaul earn much more through crops like cauliflower, lettuces and other exotic vegetables. Hence, not looking towards SBT. Even the government has been silent, despite Prime Minister Modi’s declarations. No government funding for SBT has reached the villages. I believe that in a Rs 2 crore project the government can plant over 200 hectares of wasteland with SBT. Given the unique forestland rules, which allow for planters of the tree to harvest its fruits in perpetuity, it can provide additional income to communities. But a lot needs to be done,” Tashi added.

He was assured that by planting the salicifolia varieties on wastelands, Lahaul could possibly be reworked each ecologically and economically for the folks. Now provided that 70 lakh vacationers go to these areas yearly, there’s sufficient native marketplace for the produce. The want was to get GI tags for native varieties and market them as Lahaul souvenirs, Tashi defined.

In search of miracle berry in Himalayas How sea buckthorn is transforming lives in Lahaul

Dried Sea buckthorn shrub. Image courtesy Indra Shekhar Singh

SBT can be inflicting a mini-economic revolution in Lahaul. Women and primarily single or marginalised girls have come to assistance from SBT. Women-led self-help teams (SHGs) are forming within the area and slowly organising as a cottage trade producing numerous SBT merchandise — teas, jams, juice, et al.

I travelled to the Miyar valley to satisfy one of many government-supported SHGs. Miyar was one of many remotest locations I had visited. Here I met Rigzin Choedon, the president of the native SHG group known as Khandoma. This 50-year-old, together with 25-odd girls, has efficiently managed to reverse the chances. “When we started this self-help group, we had women from all walks of life join in. We identified the area and started work. The government supported us through the SECURE Himalaya Project (GEF-UNDP-Forest Department project). We got a processing unit, electric kettles, filling machine, hygiene kit and received FSSAI protocol training for processing juice,” Rigzin stated.

Khandoma has positively acquired authorities assist and now its members hope that different initiatives will even spring up within the space.

After listening to all about SBT, I needed to provide the federal government an ear; I spoke to DFO Dinesh Sharma to search out out what was taking place. “There is no government policy yet. No nodal officer has been assigned either. But we at the local level through the SECURE Himalaya Project have been helping entrepreneurs start processing SBT. Women in Miyar have already started on this path,” Sharma stated.

My subsequent query was on Tashi’s suggestion of changing wastelands into SBT plantations. “SBT can’t grow everywhere, we need to carefully study the land and see if it makes agronomic sense,” Sharma added.

Despite challenges, the SBT mission offers new alternatives. As it was time to drive again to Delhi, I ended one final time at Gyan’s store. Sipping tea, I noticed the Bhaga river one final time, with sea buckthorn shrubs basking within the solar ready to bloom once more.

The author is an impartial agri-policy analyst, author and agri-talks present host. He was additionally the previous director, Policy and Outreach, NSAI. Tweets at @indrassingh. Views expressed are private.

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