After planting acacia (an alien species to our natural grasslands and forests) since 1950s, now the officials has started to discourage planting it (at least) in reserve forests. This is, definitely, a welcome move. Even though these plantations created sufficient negative impacts in our environment, such a move by realizing the reality is nothing but a developmental activity in the right direction. According to official records (of those states where Western Ghats pass through) lacks of acres of public land is already covered under acacia in addition to new proposed private areas. Considering fast growth, sturdy trunks and minimum maintenance, profitability in timber business and external funding, forests departments in different states overwhelmingly supported this alien species for afforestation in the past. But we believe that the present ban of acacia in public land alone cannot address the issue completely.
There is a political economy of acacia which helped in its growth. Timber has an extensive market in India and it is giving rich dividends too. It was the 1845 legislature gave the green signal to replace natural forests with mono-culture plants which later gave space for plantations of rubber, teak, eucalyptus, acacia etc in a tremendous speed. Plywood and furniture industries are the biggest buyers of timber in addition for firewood purposes.
For commercial purposes like timber industry acacia is best suited. Market is run by expectations of profit. Acacia is easy to plant, saplings are cheap, costless to maintain, no threat of cattle grazing, quick growth and strong wood. Acacia is richly profitable in market whereas other native species have low survival rate, poor germination and expensive maintenance. In the beginning it was state funding led to their plantation and later external agencies like World Bank. Now considering the expensive cultivation, only with sufficient availability of funds for other native species we can minimize the presence of acacia.
There is an ecological point of view too. Every plant has a natural environment and they can contribute environmental disasters if planted elsewhere. Acacia is one of the best plants for arid regions like Australia. But in India particularly around tropical Western Ghats it will behave like a landmine. Acacia is naturally made to exploit water as much as possible if not it cannot survive in water short arid regions. Plus it reduces the fertility of soil. Soil fertility is created by the presence of micro-organisms in soil for which water and other bio-degradable elements are required. It is provided by leaves and other parts of plants. Presence of phenolic and lignin in acacia leaves are high which makes they slow in decaying. In the next stage these components makes soil more acidic which destroys other micro organisms. More worrying is the colonizing nature of this tree. A mature tree will disperse their seeds even to farthest location through wind. Thus acacia ensure the destruction of local eco systems. If one acacia is there in the vicinity, no other species will survive in the entire area within some years; thatswhy it became the dominant invasive tree species in the world ecology.
But mere cutting down of existing ones and zero plantation of new acacia saplings will not restore the ecology. The long plantation of such species of trees restructured the soil and water tables against natural vegetation. It is taking thousands of years’ natural process in order to evolve a particular vegetation in a locality. When that order is suddenly destroyed (by monoculture plantations or dams or alien species) it will take a long time for nature to cure it. Thus high level political decisions must be taken with sufficient economic back up in order to restore our natural ecology as like as the case of eliminating landmines from earth.
The whole issue points out to the poor research works we conduct in our nation. Acacia was planted in different states as different government supported projects with internal and external funding. By 1990s itself various studies found the ecological threats of such alien species and monoculture plantations but neither forest nor other departments gave any importance to this. But due to increasing public awareness and resultant outrage they forced to take such steps at present. Let it continue. Remember not only an alien species like eucalyptus and pine but monoculture plantations (not forests), too, poses a threat to our bio-diversity as well as environment. As celebrating another environmental day, we must realize how valuable was our natural plants; hence our environmental protests should not end with elimination of acacia.