Inquiry concerning soil/plant options for Pakistan

I applaud your efforts to discover techniques and plants that might help mitigate the challenges you have observed. We have moved your question to a position in ECHOconversations where others familiar with the environment may respond more easily.

With the conditions you indicate, capturing moisture and concentrating nutrients is of importance. You might find some of these resources helpful as a starting point.

Its always a good idea to know what plants flourish in your region, but it sounds to me like you need to investigate why things happened as they did in. History is important. For example, why did people cut and sell trees? Was there a series of droughts that destroyed regular crops, did the market for farm produce dry-up, or did people have a heavy debt burden that needed rapid repayment. What are the crops in the region? Are farmers interested in drought-tolerant annual irrigated or non-irrigated row crops? Are farmers interested in, is there a market for, and capability to grow, tree crops such as mangoes, guava, cashews, etc? Typically, anywhere there is an expanding urban population there is a strong market for fire wood and wooden poles. Are farmers interested in cultivating these types of trees?
Joel R. Matthews

People cut the trees and sold the wood in cities as a fuel. That was the time that people were getting into farming. However, there was abundance of government land full of trees and locals cleared everything as there was no government control or any restrictions. In fact, these trees were holding huge sand dunes in place, but now these dunes have shifted and spread around and all flat land areas are covered with sand. Summer used to be very brutal but now it is really untolerable. The harvest season used to start in June, now it starts in April. The most common crop is gram (chickpeas) and very little else. Of course, it is all rain dependent. Unfortunately, locals still don’t understand why it what happened. And, they are not fond of planting any trees.

It could be that farmers have been jaded by past experience. In many regions of the Sahel, colonial governments forced peasants to plant trees for wind breaks, city beautification, and other purposes. The idea of planting trees has only recently caught on in the popular imagination after farmers were able to see how much money could be made from selling harvested wood, thorns, fodder, etc. Now many farmers in Niger are planting and selling trees. A demonstration farm may work well in this situation if you can identify rapidly growing trees that are valuable for fuel, building materials, etc. In the Maradi region of Niger we used pre-existing tree stumps that had been cut down many years earlier, and we coaxed them back to life. (See ECHO note on Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration). Farmers got excited about this because they all had farms full of useless tree stumps, which they were able to convert to tree products for sale within a two or three years with literally no cost and very little work. These trees produced in drought years when millet and sorghum failed, and serve as both environmental protection and crop insurance plan…

Joel - you seem to be very knowledgeable about the environment and different grown in African countries. The area I am exploring about is Pakistan with similar conditions. Do you recommend any drought resistant trees or shrubs which can survive there and where to get their seeds please? Regards, Fallak

Hi Fallak,
The ECHO seed bank is the best resource for giving technical advice regarding which techniques and plants should be tried in your region of Pakistan. But keep in mind that local farmers in Pakistan are experts in regional growing conditions. Ultimately you have to work with those farmers, so if you want them involved in decision making, they have to be consulted from the beginning. Not as a rubber stamp as many agencies do so they can get on with “their project”, but as a real, relevant part of the decision making process. Whereas you may be able to introduce potentially valuable new trees into the area, the farmers know a lot about indigenous trees: which ones do well in drought conditions, which ones are valuable for marketable products such as poles, fire wood, fruit, nuts, fodder, thorns, and which ones hinder nearby row crops. This last point is very important to farmers, but it is often ignored by development agencies. Sustainable agroforestry projects, in most cases, must integrate with agriculture, particularly when agriculture is a primary sector in the local economy. Without the farmers on board, you wont get anything sustainable going. Keep up the good work!
Joel R. Matthews, PhD
Engineering Technology
Diablo Valley College

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I appreciate for providing these very valuable and valid points. Unfortunately, my region farmers never planted any trees, they only grazed their goats and sheep in all their lives. When someone started clearing the area about 50-60 years ago for cultivation, then everyone followed and cut all trees and bushes in the entire region. The majority of the people who actually cut the trees in fifties and sixties are all gone and new generation has no idea how and why all this happened, and they seem to be not interested in this effort. They even question my motive, as I have been out of the area for about 60 years and out of Pakistan about 40 years and have no possibility of going back and settling there… The present generation is not knowledgeable about the importance of green canopy at all and don’t even believe in the environmental change thing. Back in 1980, I sent 2 Kg of Jojoba seed to my village and no one planted it as someone rumored that it may spread some type of disease which could kill other crops and vegetation.

I am planning to establish a 5-10 AC farm in the village and grow these trees and bushes there along with application of adaptable technology - to help educate the locals by this show & tell approach. I believe that slowly they will understand and get involved. I am approaching it as a noble cause and a way to give back to the area where my life started.

Hi Fallak,
I’m sorry I took so long to respond. Your plight sounds familiar to my own, while trying to convince West African farmers to adopt certain practices. This story is outlined in my article in EDN 123, “Why many African farmers chose not to engage in development”. You might find some insight there.
J. Matthews