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Sustainable development of Indian Butter Tree towards protecting environment and traditional knowledge

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Initiatives to conserve bio-resources having traditional and economic value for its sustainable use have been very few when it comes to protecting certain tree borne edible oil species like The Indian Butter Tree (Scientifically known as Aesandra butyracea) grown by locals under the guidance of renowned environmentalist Padma Awardee Sunderlal Bahuguna in small farm holdings of Uttarakhand in a nondescript village known as Ghansali 171 km from state capital Dehradun.

The tree species which is now on the verge of extinction needs to be sustainably grown in clusters in the forest and non-forest areas of Uttarakhand in its 11 districts based on the recommendations of Planning Commission, Government of India through a field survey done by apex national financial institution NABARD in Uttarakhand during 2002 to 2003.

NABARD’s field survey based cost-benefit analysis stated that growing 10 lakh trees seeds from which 60, 000 litres of edible oil can be extracted per year can fetch Rs 120 crore annually based on the premise that 10 lakh hectares of land be made available for the purpose in Uttarakhand. It has been estimated that growing 100 trees can produce 3,000 litres of edible oil per year per hectare basis on the 15th year giving an income of Rs 3 lakh annually.

The tree locally known as Chyur in Uttarakhand produces edible oilseeds, which are rich in oil content and is a potential substitute for hydrogenated oil or Vanaspati Ghee commonly consumed in Indian households. Interestingly, it is being used as a substitute of hydrogenated oil in many parts of Nepal, Kumaon Division of Uttarakhand and tribal areas of Chakrauta hills in Uttrakhand for the past many centuries. Grown at an altitude of 2,000 to 5,000 feet in the sub-Himalayan tract covering the Himalayan region, which encompasses regions like Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal and Manipur, the tree is also known as Kalpabriksha, which means, ‘the tree which fulfils every human need’.

Indian Butter Tree as a Tree Borne Oil Species (TBOS) bears relevance when it comes to overcoming India’s import dependency for edible oil which is currently at Rs 74, 000 crore projected to be Rs 2 lakh crore by 2020.

There are only a few TBOS species which are sources of edible oil like Coconut Oil, Sal, Avocado and Indian Butter Tree. NABARD did a comparative analysis of 13 edible oil yielding species out of which Indian butter tree is amongst the highest edible oil yielding variety which gives the maximum yield of 3000 litres per hectare. Other 8 noteworthy edible oil yielding varieties are Mustard, Soybean, Rice Bran, Sunflower, Groundnut, Castor, Tung and Coconut.

Though ASSOCHAM report may give a ringside view of the edible oil scarcity in the country, the scenario is however grim in the hilly region of not only Uttarakhand but the Himalayan region as well due to poor land availability. The reason attributed is urbanisation and large-scale migration.

India has been importing edible oil to the tune of Rs 74 thousand crores as per the estimates of ASSOCHAM and is poised to grow at a rate of 6% so much so that by 2020-21, the import bill is estimated at Rs 2 lakh crore. Therefore there is a need for a renewed focus on the sustainable use and conservation of TBOS, which is a viable solution for the country’s over-dependence on the import of Palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia among other countries like Argentina and Brazil for Soyabean oil.

A promising bioresource of edible oil like Indian Butter Tree and a great subject of traditional knowledge is today facing neglect due to government’s apathy and hence is on the verge of extinction. Further, it bears a lot of relevance when we talk about areas of concern like global warming, groundwater table depletion, forest fires, indiscriminate exploitation of bioresources for animal fodder, dwindling rural economy and above all a challenge to conserve the environment and our biodiversity.

Certain initiatives have been taken by other academic institutions like High Altitude Plant Physiology Research Centre (HAPPRC) affiliated to HNB Garhwal University, Uttarakhand and by individuals like Uttarakhand based Social Worker Ramesh Gairola and Entrepreneur Kundan Singh who planted 200 trees in 2011 is indicative of the belief that collective efforts towards conserving bioresources like Indian Butter Tree and ecology can be a feasible idea to tackle the challenge towards protecting environment and traditional knowledge.

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