Mithi, Tharparkar: Fast expanding desertification and drought in Thar, caused by unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, loss of vegetation cover and reduced rains, has gravely threatened survival of the livestock, local people and wildlife in the area. But the initiative ‘Combating Desertification Through Agro and Pastoral Forestry Approaches in Semi-arid Tharparkar District’, which have been lunched by the Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE) in support with the Drynet International, Catholic Relief Service (CRS) and the World Food Program (WFP) have not only helped reduce pace of the desertification but also protect survival of the man and the beast.
There are several people have benefited from the initiative and have shown significant improvement in their socio-economic life thanks to strengthening of their livelihoods. Noor Mohammad Hingorjo, a 46 years old livestock farmer in Mehari village of Mithi taluka, was reeling under severe impacts of desertification and intermittent droughts in the semi-arid Tharparkar district. Noor Mohammad Hingorjo narrated:
“I was seriously worried on rapidly depleting natural resources including water and vegetation, which are sources of the survival of the man and our livestock. But, economic support in shape of pastoral farm, help in managing it and capacity building for better and efficient depleting water resources for livestock and the agriculture saved me and my family from slipping into a trap of hunger, poverty and malnutrition”
He now looks after 3,300 indigenous trees of different species and has grown fodder at his pastoral farm in the village. Sharing impacts of the pastoral farm, livestock farmer Noor Mohammad said: “The trees have helped check desertification by stabilizing moving sand dunes in the area in and around the pastoral farm, and his livestock stock has grown healthy and multiplied due to continuous supply of fodder from the pastoral farm spread over more than two acres.
He said that initially SCOPE had provided him with 740 seedlings of different tree species in 2008, which have grown as high as 6 feet while some of them up to 7 feet. During last two years from the day I started to work on the pastoral farm, the number of my livestock has increased to 26 from 13.
Major tree species being promoted by SCOPE under the desertification control and drought mitigating effects initiatives include Beri, Gugral, Kumbhat, Kandi, Neem, Peepal, Manjhali Lemon, Papaya, Cheko and olive. “Rise in livestock number has also strengthened my livelihood and I am no more landless,” he tells Pakistan Times in an euphoric tone.
Yaqoob Meyano of Bandhan Las village in Mithi is another beneficiary of the program. He narrated:
“I have planted different fruit and other indigenous trees as well as different vegetables. However, I have started eking out his livelihood by selling fruits and the vegetables in the local market while the fodder I cultivate has improved health of my livestock”
He said that before he started working on my agro-forestry farm, on which forest trees have also been planted to stop desertification and lessen drought effects, he used to earn my livelihood by rearing livestock. “But, depleted vegetation cover in our village , caused by reduced rains, depleting underground water resources, proved threatening to the survival of livestock of mine and other households in my village”, he recalled.
However, this agro-forestry is not only providing fodder for our livestock but also source of income. In addition, the indigenous forest trees planted at my farm has also stopped desertification in our village, expanding at a threatening pace. The SCOPE has introduced pastoral farming in some 20 villages and agro-forestry in 12 villages situated in the Mithi taluka near Rann of Kuchh area.
“Basically we have introduced these initiatives in the areas on experimental basis, where desertification was at rise,” said Bharumal Armani, SCOPE’s coordinator in Mithi. Talking about primary goals of the agro and pastoral farming, the initiative ‘Combating Desertification Through Agro and Pastoral Forestry Approaches in Semi-arid Tharparkar District’ Bharumal Armani said that checking desertification, mitigating drought effects, strengthening livelihoods of those, who are depended on livestock and agriculture farming for incomes, checking tree cutting, halting unsustainable use of natural resources including vegetation, protection of the local wildlife, sustainable use of range-land resources and improving socio-economic conditions of the locals as an integral part of drought mitigation for livelihood through community development plan are the fundamental objectives of the program.
According to data provided by SCOPE officials at the Mithi office, some 18,000 different local fruit and forest trees have been planted at the pastoral and agro-forestry farms over last two years. Bharumal Armani said that even these trees can survive in tough drought conditions once they are fully grown up and it takes some three years for these trees to become fully-grown trees.
Some beneficiaries of the program have said that they need windmills and drip irrigation systems for supply as they have to walk long distances to fetch water for their farms.
Ali Akbar Rahimo of the Association for Water, Applied Education and Renewable Energy (AWARE) has said that underground water table at most of the pastoral and agro-forestry farms, provided by the SCOPE, is not deep beyond 36 to 40 feet. He said:
“However, establishing windmills and solar-powered water pumping machines is a viable option and can help rid the beneficiaries of the program of bringing water from distant dugwells through different sources”
Ali Akbar Rahimo said further that seeing the wind speed in the program areas, one could say for sure that windmills could be more viable and cost-effective option for bringing up the water from dugwells and supplied through drip irrigation to the pastoral and agro-forestry farms.