Subh-e-Nau Magazine

Planting with an evergreen view

Our youth face enormous challenges and are unable to work positively towards the betterment of their lives due to debilitating social and economic conditions. To mobilize our most vital and bright section of the population, we must involve them in healthy outdoor activities like plantation.    

Pakistan’s future is open to some dire questions including the state of its dwindling and degrading natural resources the burden placed on our young ones should make us actionable now. Deforestation is at the root of most of these evils, and curbing it By announcing seasons of plantation as major events, as well as acting practically on the “National Day for Plantation” on Independence Day, the involvement of a large section of the population can be made to contribute towards a positive and meaningful cause.
The results, which will of course rejuvenate Pakistan in all sorts of ways will bring our communities and together and unite them for just causes. It will complement existing efforts by our government such as the Billion Tree Tsunami campaign. Additionally, in such plantation drives, we enhance the civic duty and responsibility that is incumbent on our youth. Pakistan sits at a precarious 5% forest cover, against a required 25%; this cannot be simply be reached by the government and authorities due to limited resources.
Subh-e-Nau played a key role in advocating for a “National Day for Plantation”, which is now mandated on August 18, but we can begin now and plant all year long till Pakistan is truly clean and green. Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) states: “If the Hour (the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it.” (Authenticated by Al-Albani).
Practically implementing such timeless wisdom first shows the commitment of the government and authorities in restoring the natural beauty and well-being of Pakistan. It would also project our nation as a peace loving and environmentally conscious member of the world community. Hence, top authorities should be involved in declaring the spring season to include active plantation campaigns supported by the government. Since the upcoming spring season is in March, it should be declared now for August, alongside September, for heavy plantation so that this flows literally from the top leadership. The Prime Minister, for example, could possibly announce this on national and international media.
A top-level coordinating body should be formed under the Chairmanship of a high ranking official, which exclusively handles and monitors this on a regular basis as the implementation period is short. The other option is to entrust the whole responsibility to one Department that can supervise the implementation of activities from the top right down to the grass roots level, addressing all problems along the way. 
The “National Day for Plantation” should be formally embedded as a part of our legislation. Following the declaration, a national policy should follow, the planning of which should start in parallel to the declaration. The national policy should be debated in the national assembly and adopted so that this becomes part and parcel of celebrating every season by plantation in the future.  In this way, it can be ensured that this will not just be a one-time activity by the Government in power, rather a milestone to be remembered by the future generations.
The media should be involved at a large scale in bringing up the spirit of festivity for this day and for plantation drives in its vicinity. Hence, state media and information ministries should be involved to project plantation as the mainstay of celebration this spring plantation season. Special programs, songs, talk shows, dramas and spots should be made and aired so that people are not caught by surprise as to what the Government is trying to do. The cause should be promoted as one of national interest.
There should also be an awareness campaign for informing people on planting indigenous and local trees which should be initiated in parallel with the ‘bringing up the spirit of festivity’ step so that people are prepared before the season begins in February.  Open spaces should be arranged by local governments so that people have a place to plant the saplings. In addition, these authorities should promote plantation of indigenous or local trees citing their importance as well as overall benefit to the planet as well as Pakistan.
The Forest Department and the local governments should implement such programs and it is pertinent to mention that manpower under Government Departments should be fully involved. Of special help can be scouts, forest officials, horticulture departments and educators in this respect.  To provide water for plantation, septic tanks should be installed for the purpose of recycling sewage water. New plants require relatively cleaner water that what is being used by city authorities now.
On the “National Day for Plantation”, all allied ministries, departments and institutions should plant at least 1,000 trees and sustain them. This will set an example for the public to follow. Ministers and Secretaries should be made directly responsible for this plantation. Forest and Local Government Departments should assist the people in plantation by setting up camps where plants can be distributed, and instructions given on sustaining trees. Pictorial print material in Urdu should be made and distributed with the plants.
The rest of the campaign should focus on involving people at the grass roots level. City Governments should be entrusted the responsibility of identifying places, supplying plants and assisting people so that Pakistan is literally transformed to a greener cleaner nation. At an individual/family level, people should be encouraged to use water saved in the kitchen, for example, after washing edibles such as vegetables, fruits etc. or after ‘wuddoo’ (ablution) for watering plants.
The vexing question is: Why does this level of awareness and care for the environment not catch on at the majority scale? It is because we are simply not aware of its impact on our daily lives and this ignorance oftentimes allows us the luxury to take it for granted. Thus, most of are not involved as a whole towards the required care towards our natural gifts and hence the work of many caring individuals is diluted as a result. It should also be noted that taking care of our natural resources needs to be sustained across generations and the youth should lead the charge. It cannot happen overnight, however the spark of our youth towards such care will spread to our wider populace, otherwise we are bound to lose our existing green cover amongst many other such natural assets.

Subh-e-Nau Plantation Campaign 2020: A Youthful Nation for Plantation

 Welcoming the Plantation season for an Evergreen Pakistan
Geared towards involvement from community at all levels, plantation campaigns by SN are done with sustainability as well as placing indigenous plants as the only choice. All plantation activities will be done in the spirit of educating the participants, especially the youth emphasizing that their efforts are needed for the very survival of the planet as well as making Pakistan an evergreen nation in the process.
Indigenous tree species should form the key components of any plantation drive, not just this coming February and there are really good scientific and health reasons for doing so. As is unanimously voiced by experts, this may take time; however, is the only way to ensure a long-term stability of our environment.
Plantation activities will be lobbied to occur alongside the need for a National Day for Plantation, as this will prevent further deforestation of our country. Advocacy campaigns in this regard will be presented to authorities, so that they can prevent mindless extraction of community-based forests.
Why are Indigenous Trees important for our Forest Ecosystems?
Bringing in exotic or “alien species” oftentimes creates unpredictable damage to not only the growth of our forest ecosystems and the environment, but also affects all living things. Take the example of the infamous Paper Mulberry in Islamabad which literally wreaks asthmatic havoc on us each summer, when there are record levels of pollen released by this foreign species. In addition, this tree is rendering our existing species extinct due to so-called “allelopathic effects” – these effects inhibit the growth of local plants by secreting chemicals in the soil.
Which species for reforestation purposes?
In Karachi and Balochistan, what are commonly known as wilayati keeker (Mesquite) and beli were planted for the very reason that they grew fast, but this has restricted or even wiped out other indigenous trees and shrubs like Acacia senegal – local name Khor, Acacia nilotica – local name Kikar or Bhabar, Prosopis cineraria – local name kandi or jandi. These species must be replanted and slow replacement of exotics must happen alongside.
The Northern forests in the earthquake affected areas mostly consist of Cheer (Long Needle Pine), Fir, Deodar and Kail (Blue Pine) varieties which should form the basis of reforestation efforts in the affected areas.
In the particular case of Islamabad, there are many beautiful trees in the area that are naturally part of the landscape, e.g. Shirin. Similarly, Sumbul trees should be encouraged as they also have economic value if the seeds are harvested as they are used to fill pillows. CDA should encourage harvesting of seeds of this tree as well. Banyan tree or Bur as is commonly known was planted for centuries. Sher Shah Suri planted these trees at regular intervals on the GT Road in sets of three with water ponds for horses. People also used to rest under these. Peepal is also a very good native tree for the purpose.
Further recommendations are: Pine – local name Cheer, Sukh Chain, and Kachnar. Local Mulberry that produces black colored fruit is a very good choice, since the fruit has medicinal qualities of healing sore throats and infections.
Our country needs to rejuvenate itself every coming plantation season and involving our youth will ensure that the present-day climate crises address does not only happen today, but also in the coming days.
Join our Plantation Campaign 2020 this March!
writer: Dr. Farrukh Chishtie

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Boosting the agrarian economy  

Pakistan’s agrarian economy will only receive a boost from the plantation of supporting green cover to revitalize most of our poor population that depends on it for livelihood. Land degradation and further deforestation can be avoided with effective laws and monitoring policies while investment in fruit trees will provide both food and a means of livelihood to the poor.    

Land remains a crucial element in development economics, regardless of whether a strong dependence on agriculture exists or not. Our natural resources are our true sources of wealth and especially in the light of being an agrarian economy, care for the environment becomes a major factor when livelihoods of most of our poor is based on forests and farms. An utter disregard for the devaluation of land by environmental degradation not only means a downward spiraling poverty cycle but has the potential to uproot our entire nation from the ground up. Forests also play a key role in soil erosion, sedimentation and flooding as well as literally being the filters for clean air, keeping us healthy and ensuring land fertility.
The principal cause of deforestation in Pakistan is the unmitigated consumption of fuelwood and timber. Further, indigenous species are threatened by thoughtless plantation of exotics, which are rendering them extinct. Rapidly increasing domestic livestock population is also the direct cause of degradation on rangelands and forests. Pakistan also faces degradation of agro-ecosystems caused by irrigation. The agricultural use of pesticides and fertilizers has rapidly increased in recent years killing many species as their use in Pakistan has increased manifold.
On the other hand, the construction of dams and barrages in the Indus basin to control flooding and store water for irrigation have greatly endangered the Wetlands habitat. Reduction in freshwater flow to the coast has greatly increased salinity in mangrove forests, which support local fishermen by maintaining an entire ecosystem that comprises of fishes as well as other biodiversity. These trees are breeding grounds for commercial fishes and prawns as they provide nutrition for these animals. Pakistan exported, for example, 25,000 tons of prawn in 1998. Hence, without these, the fishing industry of Pakistan would collapse. Mangroves also provide fuelwood for coastal villages like Ibrahim Haidri and Rohri which oftentimes is the only source of energy. The leaves are quite nutritious, and camels owned by villagers are often fed by these. Every spring, about 16,000 camels are herded in the delta area and fed by means of these trees.
The side effects of deforestation and lack of rainfalls due to climate change are not only going to affect agriculture, the backbone of our economy, but will put into serious question a simple human existence requiring potable water. With the rise of diseases like hepatitis, Dengue fever and AIDS across Pakistan means that the poor are especially vulnerable to the vicious cycle of ever-increasing poverty, rising health related risks with environmental degradation occurring simultaneously.
How do we use afforestation to reclaim our people and lands from perishing through and through? This must first start at the legislative level where laws regarding effective monitoring and preservation of the community-based forests is fully realized.
This is because almost all of the community owned forests (classified as Guzara forest) all across Pakistan are destroyed due to unmitigated cutting down of trees. For example, the greenery that one witnesses in the Northern areas is mostly state-owned reserve forests. Since there is no accountability for cutting down trees or proper replacement strategies, these areas are the worst affected. The example of the region of Alai, which is mostly owned by the community which is very much below the poverty line and hence they are forced to cut down trees in order to survive.
Hence, laws regarding such forests must be changed and effective replacement strategies be implemented by the government so that deforestation can be stopped. Appropriate development must occur in these areas so that the poverty level is reduced and hence there is some motivation and interest in keeping forests intact by the locals. The level of forest cover is still quite healthy in the Northern areas and the situation can still be salvaged if proper strategies are put into place in community owned forests by the government, which now have up to 90% level of deforestation levels.
Poverty reduction will require a serious investment in the care of our natural resources especially forests. In this regard, massive plantation drives, with the involvement of communities is an answer. This should include protection of coastal regions, as the mangrove forests provide substantial support to the fishing community in that region.
This also creates an environment that is conducive to healthy living and provides means for various communities to benefit by plantation of fruit trees and other indigenous species of trees like “Sukh Chayne” whose seeds have been found to yield biodiesel. Experts in agriculture, local ecology and botanists should be involved in the plantation of such species, so that funds are not wasted on either exotics or geographically misplaced trees. Further, communities involved in the plantation must be educated and supported for effective replacement strategies. The Forestry department, as it is doing in state owned forests, must tag the trees and maintain inventory of each tree, so that unlawful deforestation is kept in check as well as proper action taken towards those bent on weakening Pakistan for their selfish gains and profits.
While all of this may sound idealistic, it is nevertheless possible if the positive impact of an underlying healthy natural environment is understood in terms of human prosperity. The authorities should come to grips with what is keeping us intact and prevent further harm from happening, as further neglect only means further slipping into the jaws of underdevelopment and the real possibility of Pakistan turning into a desert. Proper forest management, alongside massive plantation drives means that we are taking steps to slow this slide towards destruction by helping the poor and strengthening ourselves as a nation in the long term.
Writer: Dr. Farrukh Chishtie


Urban Gardening 

Growing fresh, healthy vegetables, fruit and herbs in an urban environment, even if you don’t have an actual garden, is a fantastic and enjoyable undertaking. In this, all of the family can be actively involved and furthermore, prior experience is not a necessary ingredient! (Part-I).    

In this, the first article in a series of six, I intend to explain the absolute basics of how to go about growing your own food in whatever limited space you have available. I will detail how to do this without the use of the harmful chemicals and pesticides generally sprayed/applied by commercial growers and with which the ‘fresh’ produce we buy is often contaminated.
Increasingly high levels of air pollution in built up localities is not an indication that the produce you grow will be harmful to eat unless, that is, your home is immediately adjacent to a busy road intersection/traffic lights where hundreds of vehicles a day rev up their engines for hours on end thus emitting noxious, lead containing fumes. However, even if this is the case, you can neutralize any lead toxicity in the soil by adding large amounts of compost and manure which, as it is ‘clean material’ will rebalance the soil chemistry and assist plants in reducing any lead up take through their root systems.
Alternatively, you can opt not to use existing ground soil at all; this is particularly relative if your home happens to be adjacent to a large industry, a tannery for example, where run-off chemicals could have completely poisoned the ground. You can safeguard soil health by building raised beds, full of bought in soil/compost/manure or by cultivating everything in pots and other suitable containers.

Chemical free gardening, correctly called ‘Organic gardening’ is all about growing plants without any chemical interventions whatsoever and the produce is safe and healthy to eat. The produce is often higher in vitamin content as greens such as spinach immediately begin losing vitamins the very second they are harvested and, at home, they can be rushed straight off to the kitchen rather than lying in storage somewhere enroute. The fresher fruit, vegetables and herbs are consumed then the healthier and tastier they are.

Before progressing to growing requirements of numerous food plants though, it is important to understand something about that main ingredient…. soil.
Sandy soil, as found in coastal and arid areas of the country, does not retain enough moisture as water drains straight through it leaching out valuable nutrients on its way. Some, mainly indigenous plant species thrive in sandy soil but not the vegetables, etc. you want to grow. This is not to say that you cannot have a healthy garden in sandy soil. You can. However, before even thinking of planting anything you must add lots and lots of well rotted, preferably organic manure/compost to the soil. Mixing it in thoroughly and watering it down. This will improve both soil fertility and its moisture retaining capabilities. You will need to add more manure/compost to the soil on a regular basis, each time you plant a new crop for example, in order to maintain its health.
Clay soils, as found in much of the Punjab and parts of N.W.F.P., tend to be extremely dense, drain badly in periods of wet and bake as hard as concrete in summer. They do though contain an extremely high level of plant nutrients which will be more easily released by lightening the soil structure with the addition of plenty of manure/organic compost and, if intending growing carrots for instance, with the addition of some river sand not its salty seashore cousin.
River silt, as found in flood plains throughout the country is very fertile indeed but tends to retain too much water at times. Once again lots of manure/compost is the answer to improving them.
Extremely stony soils, those full of large and small chunks of rock, are difficult to dig but if this is all you have then persevere, taking out stones as you go and piling in as much manure/compost as you can.
Making your own compost is something we will tackle later on in the series but,
meanwhile, a quick look at some easily available alternatives.
Manure is really the backbone of any organic garden and, even in urban locations you will be able to find a source somewhere around. Buffalo pens are an obvious answer although the manure may not be totally chemical free due to the types of processed feedstuffs and veterinarian medicines the animals are given. Horse and donkey manure is even better than buffalo manure as it contains far less straw and other tough materials. Goat and sheep manure are both excellent but poultry manure, with its high lime content, is best used in small amounts only.
Fresh, wet manure should not be used as these heats up in the process of rotting down and can badly burn your plants. Manure should be old and fully rotted down into a dark brown, almost odourless mix of quite small, sometimes even powdery pieces. Coir, the outer hairy part of coconuts, helps to lighten up heavy soils such as clay but, as this contains virtually no useful plant food, it needs to be mixed with richer ingredients such as manure.
If you know of a mushroom farm, then their previously used mushroom compost is great stuff and can often be had at little cost.
Sacks of imported peat and ready mixed compost are available in some garden supply stores but tend to be expensive. Peat is not as good for your garden as the seller will undoubtedly stress as it is very light, quickly washes away and contains few nutrients. Ready mixed compost may contain chemicals so, prior to purchasing, please read the label of contents.
If buying soil from nurseries then check that it is new soil, not their previously used stuff emptied out from pots of unsold or diseased plants as the nutrient value will be low; it may contain large quantities of redundant plant roots, broken pieces of pot and could carry fungal/bacterial or insect pests.
Fruit, vegetables and herbs, as previously mentioned, do not need to be grown in an actual garden but can be grown in a wide variety of large and small clay pots, wooden vegetable/fruit crates, drums, buckets, used tins, yoghurt cartons etc. In fact, anything which holds soil and has adequate drainage holes in the base can be used for growing something or other. Old car tires for instance make great plant containers and can be stacked one on top of another, for deep-rooted plants such as potatoes.
Kitchen vegetable storage stands, and the like are another useful item, as are old sinks and bathtubs and I know of a lady in Taiwan who has a commercially viable, highly productive vegetable garden, all in bathtubs, on the roof of her apartment. Hanging baskets of various types can be bought or made at home and even the legs of an old pair of denim jeans, the bottom sewn tightly shut, packed with soil, laid flat on the ground with three-inch long slits cut here and there through which to insert young plants of trailing tomatoes and the like. Then, suspended from a strong support once the plants are thoroughly rooted are wonderful, if unusual, methods of creating vertical growing space.
Raised beds are a viable alternative to pots if you have at least some area of level ground, even if this happens to be at the side of a concrete driveway, in a paved courtyard or on an adequately waterproofed, load bearing, flat roof.
These are very simple to make: basically, you require something to retain soil; this can be bricks, blocks or planks of wood, not cemented together as this would adversely affect drainage. Height/created soil depth need only be four inches for shallow rooted vegetables, strawberries and herbs like lettuce, thyme, mint, coriander etc, six inches for cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, chillies, aubergines, cucumbers, capsicum peppers, stump rooted carrots, turnips and spinach and nine inches for tall growing tomatoes, peas and beans, courgettes, melons, pumpkins, squash, okra, sweet corn etc.
Now that you have an idea, what urban gardening is all about I will leave you to mull the subject over and explain what can be grown where next time around. Until then, examine every square inch of possible growing space you have and please give the matter some serious thought.
Writer: Zahrah Nasir
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