TAHLI (Sheesham/ Dalbergia Sissoo) — a high quality broad leaf, dark brown tree about 30 to 45 feet tall — has spread to almost every area located at 120m to 1,250m above the sea level owing to the environment of the sub-continent
Punjab apart, the genus Dalbergia has more than 300 species and many other tropical and sub-tropical areas of Asia, Africa, South Africa, Central America, South America and many more, share the blessings of this luxuriantly growing tree. In Pakistan and most of India, a species-Delbergia Sissoo, also named as Sheesham or Tahli, are in abundance. While, in South East Asia, Dalbergia Cochinchinensis, commonly known as, Trac is found
Sheesham is a world class timber treasured for its density, colour, elasticity and durability of the wood, which weighs 830kg/m3 on drying. It is used for numerous purposes, ranging from wooden teaspoons to boats, from agricultural implementations to super structures. The multidimensional character of Tahli brings it at par with Deodar (Cedrus Deodara) and Purtal (Abies Pindrow) which meet almost 90 per cent of the commercial, construction and industrial timber needs of Pakistan.
It is a farmer-and-environment-friendly tree by increasing the annual rainfalls, keeping the environment cool, and decreases the ratio of wind evaporation which saves the atmosphere from becoming dry. This provides immunity to inhabitants of such areas from chest and respiratory diseases. The tree helps in stabilizing canal banks and preventing soil erosions. Punjab’s 20.6 million ha of the upper Indus Plain is divided into five forest areas which are riverain, irrigated, scrub, coniferous, and trees on private lands.
Plantations in the irrigated lands began after developing Changa Manga, Mirpur, Daphar, Khanewal, Kamalia, and Cheechawatani. Tahli is a main species of riverain forest. The ratio of Tahli/Mulberry (Morus Alba) here is 27 per cent, poplar one per cent, eucalyptus 23 per cent and others 27 per cent.
Tahli along with mulberry makes about 50 per cent of the plantation with numerous benefits for social, economic and physical environments. Besides, it provides fuel, small timber, manure, leaf, and other economic needs of rural and urban people. The tree shelters insectivorous birds and protects them from winds.
A disease during the last 6/7 years has jeopardized the blessing associated with this tree. Initially a single branch vitiates and then the whole tree goes down unnoticed, unattended, and unheard. According to the Punjab Forest Department’s survey, about 70 per cent of the total trees are affected, out of which two per cent is incurable. Despite numerous Tahlis being vitiating at Mandra on the Grand Trunk Road, the attitude of forest department is unsympathetic.
As the tree takes 30 to 60 years to mature and perhaps the officials are too ambitious to wait and watch it growing once in their life or service-time, they prefer eucalyptus though it has been banned and takes five to seven years for cutting. Same is the attitude towards plantation of indigenous trees such as Keekar, Phulla, Neem, Chahra.
Most officials don’t know about the nature of disease Tahli tree is suffering from. Many humbly admitted their professional limitations while some are aware of it.
This is a ‘diabac disease’ they say. The effected tree starts to vitiate from the top travelling down to roots, says a representative of forest department. In addition he added, the disease is affecting Thali for last 6/7 years. Though it disappeared but is now making a comeback.
A plant pathologist says that the reason for depletion was a fungus that frequently changes hosts and this time it has singled out Tahli. In his opinion verticillium wilt disease is working wherein water and root canal systems of the tree are blocked thus ending the food making processes. The only remedy is to develop a fungus-friendly species of Tahli. Rising temperature in tropical zones also helps in spreading the wilt disease.
A professor from the Agriculture University Faisalabad in 2003 had told this scribe that the Forestry Institute, Peshawar has identified more than 60 pathogenic species of fungus living on Tahlis, and that two to three per cent of the trees in the Punjab were either dead or would wither away soon.
An official from the Forest Office, Rawalpindi said that Tahli in Punjab is fast ebbing and laboratory tests of the parched roots showed rotting of tap and lateral feeding roots, because of the Fusarium fungus.
It may have resulted due to poor drainage and prolonged water-logging during rains. Roots are the most vulnerable part of a tree. In a waterlogged area the chances of fusarium are very high, he said. These dead or drying trees must immediately be felled down to avoid further nesting of pathogens on healthy trees.
Depletion of the tree is endangering the physical, social, and economic environment of the province. Its extinction on a massive scale is certainly pregnant with dangerous consequences for the country both on micro as well as macro levels.
The issue becomes more significant as Pakistan has only 4.2 million hectares of forest area – with per capita forest not more than 0.037 hectare, as against the world average of one hectare. The demand of wood too, is rising by about 10 per cent per year, and Tahli of course is the most sought after furniture wood.
Endangered Tahli must be a revelation for the advocates of eucalyptus monoculture plantations. Might one see how a certain species can take hostage people and the environment? More importantly, consumption patterns for wood and timber among our rural and urban communities need a special deliberation. The traditional self-contained village of Punjab was never an isolated independent entity. A village was a physical stage on which people performed and acted their allocated roles, but the social processes, of which, these people were a part had a broader physical range.
In economic and political terms, they were a part of a greater whole and the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. It was their way of life almost throughout the subcontinent and the cooperation between different strata of society in a village was never organized at a village level, instead at the level of people who shared common economic interests.
For example, to fell a tree in a typical Punjab village was the duty of cobbler, because he needed the upper layer of Keekar tree to colour the shoe leather. Then carpenter sorted out the firewood from the high quality wood for furniture. The firewood was taken into custody of a cook for cooking purposes and fire, so on and so forth – the tree was not the sole property of anyone person or group – luckily there wasn’t any forest department then – almost every member of the traditional rural society had his economic interests associated with a tree.
Owing to its extra qualities Tahli has always occupied the imaginations of the Punjabi poets as women used to sit under a shady Tahli to make a Tranjan (a social gathering of the women of an area to do daily allocated importable routine works).
Things have changed. Cultural lags exits, but should we let our Tahli trees to vitiate. Certainly not; to save our ecology from further degradation, resulting from depletion of Tahli, experts from Faisalabad-based Nuclear Institute of Agriculture and Biology (Niab), the National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (Nibge), Agricultural Universities and Forest Department should work together as some of these departments are already working on it and, we wait for domino effects.
The forest departments should encourage plantation of indigenous trees – Keekar, Phulla, Neem, Chahra. Recently elected Nazims and those who want to empower people at the grassroots level should also encourage plantation of indigenous tree species and they might work in collaboration with the non-governmental organizations working for preservations of environment and development of ecology.
Courtesy: The DAWN