Writing in Bombay, Winin Pereira highlighted the significance of ‘peak oil’ when only a few people in the world [including the UK’s David Fleming] were showing concern about the industry’s own figures.
A recent trawl through documents has revealed similar prescience with regard to climate change, food security and water depletion. In 1987 he wrote:
“The monsoon has been erratic for the fourth year running, something that has not happened for as long as meteorological records have been kept. A question many are asking is whether this is an exceptional case or whether the climate has changed permanently. The possibility of permanent change arises because of our destruction of forests and pollution of the atmosphere.
“We should prevent the cutting down of trees and plant more of them. Every leaf that grows serves to fix some of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Seeds of herbs, shrubs and trees need to be collected by the million and they should be planted wherever there are a few square centimetres of barren land. [See Natural versus Formal Forestry”, MPSM, December 1987, NO472]
Reading The Times of India’s recent report sent the writer back to Pereira’s work. It recorded that a little more than 30 years ago, a teenager named Jadav “Molai” Payeng began burying seeds along a barren sandbar near his birthplace in northern India’s Assam region to grow a refuge for wildlife and moved to the site where he could work full-time creating a lush new forest ecosystem – 1,360 acres of jungle. After seeing snakes who had died in the heat, without any tree cover, he had alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there but asked him to try growing bamboo – a ‘manufactured forest’. He then decided to grow ‘proper trees’ – which over the years became the Molai woods, a safe haven for birds, deer, rhinos, tigers and elephants.
Pereira found the ideal reforestation was natural regeneration, and allowed this to happen on twenty acres of land, which became thick forest in twenty years. He writes: “natural forestry allows the forest to regenerate in all its complex variety, just as jungles have grown for millions of years” continuing:
“Where there are forests near barren lands, the natural means of dispersal can transport sufficient seeds for their regeneration. It will suffice to stop further destruction. Seeds are normally spread by wind, by flowing water, by birds and other creatures eating the fruit. Fruit bats, for instance, disperse seeds over tens of kilometres. Others cling to clothes or to the skin of animals and are dropped elsewhere. Some are picked up by the feet of animals, while others simply fall or are spread by the explosive opening of pods or capsules. Some seeds germinate better when eaten by animals, for instance, those of babul when eaten by goats. These creatures are vital although they are considered destructive. We too eat fruit and throw the seeds around”.
However, he realised that in some areas this would not happen:
“In some places ancient forests have been wiped out over a large area, or too few species remain. It may be that the normal agents that spread seeds are absent. Here, the availability of seeds is the main constraint and it is necessary to collect the seeds of all plants that formerly grew there. Other areas may have been so degraded that only species that can survive in very little soil may thrive in the first instance.
Seeds can be scattered or sown and left to fend for themselves. This may seem an inefficient way of operating but there are good reasons for it. When seeds are sown directly, they will germinate under the right moisture and temperature conditions. This ensures that those best adapted to the soil and changing climate will grow. Only a few out of thousands may survive, but this is not necessarily inefficient when the labour, cost and low survival rate of seedlings of formal plantations are taken into account. Even if the seeds are eaten by insects or just decay, they will contribute to soil fertility”.
Extracts were taken from ‘Asking the Earth’ and those who wish to read on may do so by downloading the pdf here. See Chapter 9 – Natural versus Formal Forestry and Chapter 10. Celebrating Trees, Celebrating Life