Global warming, island nations and forestry



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The success of the mixed plantations of Jak and Mahogany (such as that at Badagamuwa mentioned by retired Conservator, Nanayakkara) provides a hint that such mixes, as appropriate for each Agro-climatic Zone would have considerable potential. Promising candidates from outside the conventional timber species would include Kapok (Ceiba pentandra), Goraka (Garcinia morella), Nutmeg, Arecanut, Kitul, Bread fruit (which has the added advantage of self-propagation through root suckers), Bamboo (with multiple uses) and many more. Perhaps, such potentials may even warrant the setting up of a result-oriented group of enterprising officials. The planning may also direct attention to corridor planting of species (e’. g. Bamboo) as barriers to marauding elephants. Additionally, free flowering trees that could serve as ‘bee pastures suggest themselves. Will we tap into this potential cornucopia?


by Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda


It is refreshing to see the widespread interest among the readers of The Island on matters vastly more important than the pitiful circus among our political beneficiaries, obsessed with such ponderous priorities (truly trivialities) of names, symbols, colours and partnerships. The discerning public, I believe are fed up with these antics, and the accompanying massive frauds and corruption that such irrelevancies bring in their wake.


The realities of Global Warming and its consequences are beginning to stir the conscience of even the lobbies of Petroleum and Coal and their advocates, enticed by the wealth it brings them. Responsible scientists have, over the past several decades, emphasized the perils of ignoring or denying this stark reality. The last couple of years have given more than a glimpse of how Nature responds to continuing insult. Hardly a day passes without reports of such disasters as Earthquakes, Floods, Droughts, Forest Fires, Hurricanes, cyclones, Tsunamis and similar disturbing events. Some are clearly man-made and others less clearly so.


As a small island nation, we may be tempted to believe that our share of blame for such global happenings is very small and the consequences too distant to cause us worry. If this lulls us into inaction, it could be perilous. If not the flood, at least the ripples will hit us. Small nations like the Maldives and some South Sea Islands are at risk of being "devoured" by the rising sea levels. True, this may take a few centuries to completely flood them out, but a slow and insidious creep will manifest stealthily. Are we ourselves beginning to see this happening in the form of sea erosion, mangrove destruction and abnormal seasons and extreme climatic conditions? Should we view these as portents of worse to come?


It is an accepted fact that burning of fuel, smoke from massive forest fires and depletion of forest cover (important as a sink for carbon compounds released to the atmosphere) are matters that should prod us to act. In that sense, the declaration by President Gotabhaya that national policy will aim at targeted encouragement of renewable fuel sources, should be welcome. One may expect to see considerable obstruction by vested interests. Perhaps he will have the guts to see this through, drawing on the support from informed, uncommitted and knowledgeable persons – scientists, environmentalists and those with hands on experience. One is encouraged by the versatility and backgrounds of even the recent contributors to this important and ongoing discourse. At the least, it will focus attention on matters away from the sterile and tiresome wriggles of mini-brained, micro-thinking politicos!


The enlightened approaches to tree cover, manifesting as the recent disciplines of Agro Forestry, Social Forestry and Urban Forestry mark an important and perhaps little-recognized change. Where hitherto, forests have been viewed as areas with restricted access to humans, the new developments in "Co-operative" functioning of forests, immediately introduces a feeling of "Belonging" – not of exclusion, of rural societies and forest dwellers. There would then be a massive impact in deterring timber thieves, sand excavators and treasure hunters. The importance of "non-forest" products such as fruits (e. g. "Gal Siyambala" Palu, Weera, Dan, Wood Apple, Mora (sadly nearly extinct) are crying in need of more attention). Forest trees are an important source of Ayurvedic requirements and a large contributor to rural lives as firewood (although dwindling as kerosene cookers have become more available).


The relentless rape of forests to meet carpentry and construction needs, could be checked if better use of "Agro-wastes" can be promoted (e. g. coconut palm trunks, shells, tea prunings, coir fibre, sawdust, aquatic weeds (Salvinia and Eichornia) are among the possibilities.


The controversial Up-country pine Plantings, meant for paper pulp and the introductions such as the gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) and the thorny bamboo (Dendrocalamus strictus) did not take off. The Teak plantings have given mixed results.


In any discussions on forestry, the efforts of that intrepid ex tea-planter, Sam Popham and his "Arboretum" – ‘A sanctuary of Tropical Trees’, on the Dambulla – Kandalama Road, deserves very special mention. After years of painstaking effort and living under the harsh conditions of the Dry Zone settler, he bequeathed his amazing lifetime treasure to our nation before his return to his Homeland – England. To summarize his vision, while perhaps inadequately, is a worthy duty. He was disapproving of conventional forestry which relied on planting of "alien" species, often on land completely cleared to make way for such "intruders". Instead he identified weeds, cattle, fire and humans as constraints to Nature’s efforts to establish durable and harmonious tree communities. Remove them and Nature will respond. In his scheme of things, not a single sapling was introduced. Instead, noxious weeds were strictly removed, the land was fenced, fire-gaps were maintained and entry to humans was severely curtailed. The results were astounding. What was initially a derelict scrubland, gradually took on the appearance of a Temperate grove! Dried up streams became small rivers, birds and small mammals returned, the water level in his well rose and an altogether pleasant environment was created. The villagers and the temple priest were initially hostile towards this ‘Suddha usurper’ but soon came to accept and honour him. The chief priest even reserved a burial spot within the temple grounds in case Sam Popham were to die here! Meanwhile, his favourite "watering hole" in Dambulla remembers him by naming its bar, "The Popham Bar" complete with photographs to honour its faithful patron!


The success of the mixed plantations of Jak and Mahogany (such as that at Badagamuwa mentioned by retired Conservator, Nanayakkara) provides a hint that such mixes, as appropriate for each Agro-climatic Zone would have considerable potential. Promising candidates from outside the conventional timber species, would include Kapok (Ceiba pentandra), Goraka (Garcinia morella), Nutmeg, Arecanut, Kitul, Bread fruit (which has the added advantage of self-propagation through root suckers), Bamboo (with multiple uses) and many more. Perhaps such potentials may even warrant the setting up of a result-oriented group of enterprising officials. The planning may also direct attention to corridor planting of species (eg Bamboo) as barriers to marauding elephants. Additionally, free flowering trees that could serve as "bee pastures" suggest themselves. Will we tap into this potential cornucopia?


Meanwhile, could I dare hope that the ideas of persons with varied backgrounds may be directed towards this fertile field, even addressing the concept of Food Security, which could be critically important, whether "Global Warming" effects attack us or not.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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