Gliricidia – the multifaceted wonder plant

23 July 2012 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


By Clinton Rodrigo
I do not think it necessary for me to emphasize on the use of the legume Gliricidia for its many uses in this country. Hence the Legume Gliricidia Maculate has been the most useful legume available in this part of the world. It is since initially time immemorial’ been a source of green manure to build up the organic matter or humus content on essentially soils planted with Tea (Thea sinensis) at elevation ranges below about 4000ft above sea level. It is used as a low shade whilst generally the high shade planted along with is another legume essentially Albizzia(Albizzia Moluccana) Hence on this aspect I have already written many articles but nothing of note for some time. Hence I thought of putting pen to paper again to appraise interested personnel on this wonder plant. Hence today my article takes a different complexion as it emphasizes its title as the wonder tree. Its usefulness hence is multifaceted and my message is for it to be planted profusely and in abundance all over even on bare land and on land alongwith other crops where a fair show of sunlight is available, it is a “Golden’ tree whose features and usefulness are too numerous to mention. Its uniqueness stems from .The fact that it being a Legume it produces green manure and wood in abundance both of which can be usefully utilized for differing advantageous purposes. The green leaf and immature wood for building organic matter in the soil, and the mature wood for solid fuel, where the present intention is to convert it to ultimately generate the much needed electricity for the country.

What’s special?
Initially let me briefly explain as to what is so very special about the family Leguminosae. There are hundred of Creepers, Trees, Shrubs and Bushes that belong to this family Leguminosae. But Gliricidia to my way of thinking holds a special unique position amongst them – due to its dense heavy foliage, and the advantageous method of branching. It is important to note that both the poles and dense foliage available can be used most usefully for two equally important uses. They are the foliage for organic manure and animal fodder and the eventuating poles on which the foliage is located and the mature wood for conversion to biogas for electricity generation.
The main characteristic of a Legume is that it has a root system that has tiny nodules also called Nitrobacter in its roots which absorb the Nitrogen from the atmosphere and release same into the soil as a Nitrogen component. This hence enriches the soil Nitrogen content to eventuate in accelerated growth as a natural source of Nitrogen to the soil. Incidentally non agriculturalists may not know that the three principal components of an inorganic fertilizer mixture is Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potash, called NPK with the multitude of minor elements like Copper, Zinc, Magnesium, Sulphur, Calcium, Boron etc which then obviously is of lesser importance. But altogether they are the components of a balanced chemical or inorganic fertilizer mixture.

Hence I shall not further elaborate on the use of Gliricidia for use as a green manure except to narrate the planting methodology of same. I can say that if the correct procedure prescribed herein by me is adopted that an almost 100% stand of that which is planted can be established. In passing let me say that this should be the objective of all Tree planting immunerable campaigns launched. The importance is not only to plant a seed but to make it grow  to be a tree. My contention is that large functions & ceremonies enacted are only a worthless camouflage or façade not adequately focusing on the real intention of a seed to a plant and the plant to a tree. It is hence the conclusion that almost all of them invariably do not grow to be a tree.

It is even very correctly proposed presumably to make ‘Gliricidia” a fifth Plantation crop adding on to the Tea, Rubber & Coconut and more recently even Paddy included amongst them. This would then warrant the issue of subsidies for planting Gliriciida to help immensely in the national cause of propagation of this ‘wonder’ tree.
The article I am now narrating is for the use of this same Gliricidia where still yet the leaf & foliage will be used for as a Leguminous source of natural organic matter and fodder as an animal feed. However the poles and the eventuating wood can be utilized on a proposed “Dendro” project where Gliricidia mature wood chips of about 3 – 4 ‘inches’ in length will be cut  and collected from mature Gliricidia plantations which should be extensively propagated wherever possible in virtually the entirety of Sri Lanka moreson on lands below 4000ft above sea level, as it is a plant sensitive to elevation ranges. May I suggest that the government enacts the waste land ordinance legislation to procure such unutilized land to induce people who own them to use such land to grow Gliricidia which will enrich the soil even if the soil is impoverished to an extent.

Sri Lanka as we all know is greatly deficient in electricity power generation where we are dependent mainly on our water reservoirs- still needing desilting of the vast quantum of silt deposits on all of them – ie: Castlereagh, Moussakella, Victoria, Kotmale being amongst the largest. The presumption is that the giant Moragahakande reservoir would also fall into the above category – and that desilting of same will faithfully take place periodically. This observation is even applicable to the thousands of irrigation tanks whose water retention ability is imperative to essentially the low country paddy and vegetable famer. The desilted silt after the desilting operation can in all instances be profitably used as organic humus matter and filled into bags of very rich organic matter and if need be sold to the agriculturally/plantation sector as an additional source and an alternative to the ever increasing unbearable costs on inorganic fertilizer or chemical manure now reaching astronomical price projections. However if my above suggestion is enacted with determination and conscientiousness the formation of an organic manure or a soil conservation authority should be an added inducement to this prescribed intention. The other presently available sources for electricity generation are the Thermal, Coal, & Diesel, projects in the main available in Sri Lanka. We also anxiously await the total commissioning of the giant Norocholai coal project in chilaw. But Norocholai Coal and the Moragahakanda reservoir are all very ambitious and well thought of mega projects of great national importance.

Soil conservation
I feel as a practical agriculturist I should comment on the context of torrential rains in one month or two, spilling and overflowing of all irrigation tanks resulting in uncontrollable floods causing unbelieveable misery and damage to the populace of those areas in the country and immediately thereafter In a few months later these same areas talk  of severe drought and no water for crop cultivation or even drinking purposes. The reason for this unfortunate elementary eventuality is where the tanks and reservoirs being about 50% of its water holding capacity being silted up due to erosion not checked by adequate soil conservation measures to arrest this vast erosion of top soil. May I please be allowed to crave the indulgence of the relevant governmental authorities to give adequate cognizance to arrest this scenario by correct agricultural conservation of soil by accepted basic methods of soil conservation by seriously checking soil erosion. This is of paramount importance.
I must state that governments elected by the people in a democratic system of elections, has already been given the mandate to act for the populace of this country. Hence they should take decisions on the trust bestowed on them without fear or favour and not on any religious or ethnic preferences. Then and only then in my humble opinion will things begin to move positively. I am certain foreign lenders will help if correct evaluated project proposals are forwarded to them as soft loans or even as outright grants.

Planting methodology of Gliricidia
Getting back to Gliricidia  I shall describe the process of propagating of the Gliricidia species to enable those interested  to help build up the national requirements of as large quantities as possible for the utilization of same as a solid fuel Bio gas source for generation of electricity and as an added source for the inadequate electricity to which is already available in other alternate forms.

Gliricidia is generally and always propagated by the planting of Gliricidia poles. The poles should be of an adults ‘large toe size’ in circumference and ideally 7 ft in height. The poles once received should be subjected to a sloping single cut on the top of the pole and a wedge cut at the bottom end. The top tip of the pole should be waxed to prevent water getting into the pole after planting. The wedge cut at the bottom is to enhance rooting due to a more exposed rooting surface. Hence on this methodology initially the pole or the poles should be had ready. Thereafter the operation of the planting should be systematically and effected in an organized manner. A hole of specifications of 8” wide and 18” deep should be opened in the located area. Thereafter the treated poles and as described earlier should be immersed into the hole and tightened with the soil mounded on top to prevent water from settling round the planted pole.

It is obviously but still need to be stated that the planting operation has to be obviously in conducive weather conditions. It is when the pole has adequately grown and well branched in about a year or a little more only two straight branches should be left initially and the rest pruned down. The left over 2 branches should be cut leaving 2ft from the top of the pole and thereafter all poles of 1”- 2” in diameter should be cut leaving a foot from the last cut. It is as the pole grows larger and thus to a tree more poles could be left & cut. These cut poles of adequate girth is what should be utilized for propagation of the species. The loppings as foliage constitute the much needed green manure organic matter to the soil immediately below and the poles and the resultant wood can be cut into chips as mentioned earlier to be used for the objective of providing an alternate source of electricity generation- by converting the wood to electricity by the use of tested technology.

Need for concerted effort
I earnestly urge that a concerted effort is made by all who have spare land or space in soil to earnestly and sincerely plant this leguminous tree – Gliricidia maculate in the manner prescribed herein, and to use its foliage and wood as stated. I even suggest that the government offers subsidies to induce this planting operation. The planting of  Gliricidia can be brought under the Minor crop division due to its great importance in today’s eventuating electricity shortage scenario – if a separate department cannot be constituted due  to its great national interest.

The readers may require information on what  they should do, and the methodology they should adopt after obtaining the 4” length Gliricidia wood chips after the foliage is stripped off and deposited as green manure to the  soil. The establishment of this ‘Operation Gliricidia’ as we may refer to will take a year or a year and a half for its wood to be ready for harvest of wood for electricity generation in the manner stated herein. I am aware of certain ambitious  private sector entrepreneurs who have intentions to purchase these large quantities of going even upto 80,000kgs a day of 4” length Gliricida wood chips and to subject them through technological processes using sophisticated machinery to transform them to ultimately generate electricity on a process of I presume of Bio Mass conversion.

Any way the ultimate objective should be to provide the impoverished soil in such areas with a wealth of organic matter and also animal feed in an effort at improving the “tilth & crumbstructure” of the soil by activating the decomposition process – and also to utilize the mature wood chips for electricity generation as mentioned earlier in the national importance.

Let me close this narration by stating that this programme should be based virtually on a ‘war footing’-and made to succeed without exception.
(The writer of this article is presently managing his own Agricultural oriented Plantation Agricultural Company. He was earlier a Regional Chairman of the then nationalized plantation Boards and in charge of Plantations of Tea, Rubber & coconut in the Nuwara Eliya, Hatton, Kandy & Avissawella Regions. He is a qualified Agriculturist –whilst being a Senior Director of the Boards main Central Board of Management).

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