SEA BUCKTHORN, A MIRACLE PLANT IN GB.

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Orange berries, long silver-gray leaves, dense, stiff and thorny branches and with beautiful appearance, the magical plant, sea buckthorn is famous not only for its nutritious berries, it is multi-purpose plant used for medicinal, ornamental and environmentally friendly plant and has been used around the world for water and soil conservation, land rehabilitation and reclamation, reforestation, wildlife conservation, fuel wood production, soil improvement and farmland protection.

This shrub is 1.6-19.7 ft. tall but hardly up to 33 ft. The leaves are alternately or oppositely arranged. This plant has the ability to withstand in harsh climates and can adapt to a wide variety of environments. It grows naturally in sandy soil and at an altitude of 4000-14000 feet in cold climate. In Pakistan, it is mostly found in the northern areas of Pakistan, including Gilgit, Ghizar, Ganche, Astore, Skardu, shigar valley and Hunza, where it grows as a wild plant. Sea buck thorn is one of the most important natural resources of this mountainous region. The native species of sea buckthorn is spread along river banks and water channels which are used for fuel, forage and fencing purposes.

Studies have shown that its fruit is 5-16 times rich in vitamins C than any other fruit and vegetable. A variety of products such as jams, jelly, syrup, squash, shampoo, can be prepared from the plant. Sea buck thorn has been used over centuries as a source of herbal medicine to alleviate pain, support digestion, and strengthen blood circulation and to get rid of cough. The pulp or seed is used for oil extraction and has a great medicinal value. Sea buck thorn oils are recommended for external usage in case of skin complications induced by treatment with X-ray and radiation. It is anti-cancer and has been successfully used to treat eye diseases, gingivitis and cardiovascular diseases.

This miracle plant has a great potential to become cash crop and to create off-farm employment and   support a cottage industry in the region. But farming communities of GB are unwilling to adopt this natural resource due to its difficult and time consuming manual harvesting techniques because of the dense arrangement of fruits among the thorns on each branch. The main hurdles in proper marketing are lack of advanced fruit harvesting techniques and high labor cost. Advanced harvesting techniques should be provided to overcome these obstacles.

Government should launch awareness campaigns to adopt sea buck thorn as a cash crop among local farming community. Farmers who are already growing the plants should be encouraged by giving incentives in terms of purchasing their produce at subsidized rates. There is a need to run projects involving the local communities. Seed, softwood or hardwood cuttings, suckers and meristem culture should be used to stimulate further propagation on large scale to export raw material and semi-finished products to down cities and abroad. Workshops should be organized to train local women in collection, processing and value addition of sea buckthorn seed or fruits. Local young people know very little about the importance of sea buckthorn. Government should play a vital role to educate local people. Universities and NGOs can contribute to    a great extent by publishing and distributing broachers and booklets to spread awareness in the local communities about the importance of sea buckthorn. To increase the yield tree management is important; therefore a proper pruning system is required to maintain manageable height and shape of the tree, for this purpose, booklets should be prepared by the help of researchers about the management and planting of sea buckthorn and distribute among sea buckthorn growers. Separate sea buckthorn research centers should be established to conduct research on it. On the dioecious sea buckthorn plant, only female shrubs produce fruit. With uneven male-female ratios in shelterbelts, an even production is challenging. Therefore ratio of male-female trees should be consistent. The conversion of the raw sea buckthorn berries into a refined product needs proper harvest, transportation and storage measures. The waste materials from sea buckthorn, such as leaves, fruit, and seed residues from juice and oil extraction, could be used to develop value-added nutraceutical products for animals.  Sea buckthorns should be planted on the road sides of highways of mountainous regions because its  extensive rooting system  can help to “grab onto” soil and keep it clumped together to combat land sliding. Therefore it is concluded that sea buck thorn is an exceptional and valuable new field crop. A sea buckthorn industry is required in the region where this plant is wildly or natively grown, so that it could improve the living standard of the people and  can play a significant role in future nutraceutical market to boost up the economy of  country.

The authors are associated with Centre of Agricultural Biochemistry and Biotechnology, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Punjab, Pakistan. They can be reached at <mubibaltee@gmail.com> and <syedikram_k2@yahoo.com>


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