Mithi, Tharparkar: Area under Gugral trees, also known as gum trees, in Tharparkar district has drastically shrunk over last some 10 years because of unchecked illegal extraction of gum resin from the tree.
The gum resin is a mixture of gum and the plant secretion and is used to make certain pharmaceuticals. Because of high demand for the gum resin in the local market for immense medicinal value, the pace of extraction of the gum resin has expedited recently because of illegal and unnatural extraction of the gum resin.
Why gugral significant?
The oleo-gum of the gugral plant is useful for its carminative values and it is used in fighting obesity, lipid metabolism disorders, arthritis, and respiratory problems. Besides, the gum is also and for eliminating toxins from the body.
“Finding it a highly profitable business, greedy people come from distant towns and cities and artificially extract the gum resin and sell it to the grocery traders in cities,” said Moroo Mal Meghwar, a resident of remote village of Aadigam in Nagarparkar town – some 490 kilometres from Karachi.
Illegal extraction of the gum resin
The paced illegal extraction of the gum resin from gugral trees has cast atrocious effects on local ecological biodiversity and deprived hundreds of thousands local livestock of nutrient-rich fodder the tree provides.
“The gum-resin business has boomed to the extent that the valuable medicinal plant is now on the brink of extinction, posing a serious threat not only to forest conservation but also to the biodiversity of the area,” said Bharumal Amrani of the Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE).
During visit to different villages in the district, this scribe found most of the gugral trees almost dead – a stark evidence of artificial gum resin harvesting, which is done through chemical cut.
The villagers said that the natural harvesting of the gum resin, which mostly begins from first week of November, cast no effects on the trees and ecological biodiversity. On the contrary, the artificial harvesting of the gum resin leads to the death of the trees.
“The gugral trees themselves squirt gum resin from their branches, a process that sets off in first week of November every year and lasts for one to two months,” said 60-year-old Raso Kolhi Doodi –jo-Wandhyio village in Nagarparkar town.
He said that under this natural process, each fully mature tree gives out 250 to 500 grams of the gum resin and casts no effect on the trees. The gum resin obtained in this manner is a source of substantial income for villagers. But, its artificial harvesting lasts for five months, beginning from November, the villagers said.
Mohbato Kolhi said, “Through artificial harvesting of gum resin, which involves a complex process, each gugral tree gives off gum resin average five kilogram each month. Because of being an ecologically damaging and unsustainable process, the trees from which the gum resin is extracted die,”
With a thin and papery bark, gugral is a slow-growing rangeland shrub. It grows in arid regions of the country, including the hilly areas of Tharparkar, the Kirthar mountain range in Sindh and Cholistan, Thal and Kharian in Punjab provinces.
SCOPE’s Chief Executive Officer, Tanveer Arif, told Pakistan Timess that the unimpeded artificial gum resin harvesting, particularly when the plant’s slow-growing nature, has pushed the plant towards an extinction threat
“The poor seed-setting, a poor seed germination rate, lack of cultivation at government level, drought, overgrazing, destruction of habitat and un-sustainably excessive scientific exploitation for its gum are, among others, the major factors, which have brought the invaluable plant to the current state of near-extinction, particularly in Tharparkar district,” he said.
He said while the rainy season has already started but there seems to be almost no role by the forest department.
“Role of the forest department in controlling illegal gum resin harvesting, launching mass awareness-raising campaigns, motivating the local communities, gugral seed broadcasting during rainy seasons are critical for revival of gugral forests,” Tanveer Arif remarked.
Dr Lekhraj Kella, the provincial project coordinator for the UNDP-GEF funded Sustainable Land Management Project (SLMP), said that the gugral is known as a significant plant species of the country’s arid zone.
Uses of gugral
“For the leaves of the plant are edible and grazed by livestock, its seeds and fruit are used as food by the people. Moreover, it is helpful in sustenance of the ecological balance in rocky hills by means of the soil conservation and paced plant succession,” he argued.
The SCOPE’s CEO said that although the gugral is planted in different parts of Sindh and Punjab, the Tharparkar district is a highly potential area for being the most suitable for healthy growth of the plant.
“The areas of the district, which used to be known for dense gugral forests, have been almost cleared of these trees of ecologically, economically and medicinally enormous value,” he recalled.
Tanveer Arif also underlines need to adopt conservation and protection methods in the affected gugral areas, so that the illegal harvesting of gum resin is stopped and its revival made possible.
What is a matter of serious worry for many environmentalist, ecologists and rural development experts is the mounting use of chemicals for extraction of maximum gum, which is a sole cause of the widespread death of the gugral tree.
Reviving gugral plantation
Bharumal Amrani of the SCOPE told Pakistan Times that his organization has planted gugral trees on farms of different size of 200 acres with the help of local communities’ members in Doodey –jo-Wandiyo, Ratey-jo-Wandiyo, Ratney-jo-Wandiyo, Bhemrara, Rannpur, Wadhrai, Adhigam villages of Nagarparkar town. Most of the trees have grown four to five feet, he added.
He said that the members of the communities have been sensitized and are now themselves protecting these plants. They don’t allow anyone to extract gum from the trees and now most of the plants have also grown healthy.
“We hope in a few years the areas would be dense forests of gugral trees, provided that the villagers continue protecting the plants,” he hoped.
“We never saw the gugral trees dying in such a manner and quantity ever before the onset of chemical use for obtaining gum through this horrendous methods by the greedy and foes of environment in Tharparkar district,” said Mahjabeen Khan, social environmentalist of the SCOPE.
Mahjabeen has been actively involved in community moblization and awareness-raising campaigns for protection, conservation and re-plantation of the gugral trees in Tharparkar district.
“Though our efforts of conservation and re-plantation of the gugral have bore fruits, we still need the relevant government officials, particularly in forest, agriculture and police departments, to join hands with the civil society organizations, which are working for the revival and conservation of the near-extinction gugral forests in not only Sindh but also other parts of the country,” she emphasized.
Official vigilance body
A forest and wildlife vigilance committee, comprising session judge Mithi and district director for human rights Syed Saghar Hussain Zaidi, was constituted last year on 21 January. The vigilance body has been tasked to check illegal harvesting of gugral gum resin and check illegal hunting and tree felling in the Tharparkar district, said Mahjabeen Khan.
Bharumal Amarani of SCOPE told Pakistan Timess that a signing campaign has also been launched to mobilize support at all levels for declaring Karoonjhar as national park and demanding absolute ban on chemical cut practices for obtaining gum resin from the gugral trees.
Impact on Livestock
Another negative effect of the current sorry state of the gugral forests is that the livestock in the arid zone has also suffered.
“In drought situation, leaves of the gugral trees are major source of fodder for our livestock, which graze on the plants. Besides, the milk and meat/mutton of the livestock, which feed on the leaves of gugral trees, turns thick and nutritious and such livestock grows healthy,” Rano Faqeer of Channeeda village in Nagarparkar town.
“The people of the arid gugral-rich regions have been taught by the buying companies to use copper sulphate to extract the gum. The business has attracted the influential people of the area to exploit it for maximum profit,” he said.
Unsustainable exploitation affects wildlife
Unsustainable exploitation of the gugral trees has also affected the wildlife in many ways. The villagers told this scribe the few years back the scattered gugral forests were dense and provided shelter to different wildlife species. But after their illegal exploitation started and gathered paced recently, the population of wildlife species has declined considerably.
“Often, we used to witness deer, peacock, neel bull, different birds, mammal in a huge number in the dense gugral forests near our village. But, now such scenes have become very rare and we believe absence of shelter in form of dense gugral forests, different wildlife species have died or have been hunted,” Somji Kohli in Adhigam village said.
The villagers said that the health of livestock, grazing on affected gugral trees, suffer seriously. “The livestock, feeding on the affected gugral trees, have been hit by several abdominal diseases while others experience miscarriages. Often, such health problems lead to their death.
PPP’s Sharmila Farooqui pushes for gugral’s protection
Pakistan Peoples Party leader, Sharmila Farooqui , has remained active for conservation and protection of the gugral trees in Sindh and pushing the provincial government to come up with a conservation plan for it.
“I had visited the areas in Tharparkar district in person in December 2009, where the endangered gugral is being un-sustainably exploited. After visiting the areas, I put forward recommendations to the Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah for saving the gugral from being totally vanished,” she told Pakistan Times over phone.
The chief minister directed the then provincial forest minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza and the forest department secretary to submit a report on the current state of gugral and the threats to it.
The chief minister also told them to come up with a viable gugral conservation and protection plan, so that the threatened plant species is saved from extinction, she elaborated.
Sharmila Farooqui said: “Of course, it is a matter of worry that nearly 500 medicinal plants of high value including the gugral and the wildlife are at risk of complete extinct, while the government officials in the relevant provincial departments have neither brought the issue to the notice of the chief minister nor have they taken any substantial measures for their conservation and protection.”
Spread of gugral habitats
Bharumal Amrani said that Tharparkar is one of the five eco-regions of Pakistan and added that a large area of gugral forest in the Tharparkar district is part of the protected area declared under the Article 26 of the Sindh Forest Act 1927. It is also part of the game sanctuary declared in 1980 under the Article 14 of Sindh Wildlife Ordinance 1972.
He said that a huge of the district, spreading from Ali Bunder to Harro area of Nagarparkar is also integral part of the Rann of Kachh Ramsar site.
However, necessary amendments to the Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1972, Pakistan Environmental Protection Act 1997, and Pakistan Forest Policy 1991 be made in the light of present day needs. Besides, a Thar natural resources management plan be made and implemented to conserve and protect the natural resources of the district, he emphasized.