Arid Lands Newsletter--link to home pageNo. 46, Fall/Winter 1999
Tools for Small Farmers

Selected technologies for land and soil management in the cold and dry regions of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas

edited by Shaheena Hafeez

"The changing socioeconomic scenario of the HKH region is causing disturbances on rangelands and watershed areas, along with a rapid deterioration of chemical and physical properties and a declining fertility status of most soils. Thus, technologies included in this article deal with natural resource rehabilitation, conservation, and improvement, as well as land preparation and means of improving the soil fertility of farm resources. "

[ALN Editor's note: This article is excerpted from Chapter 4 of Appropriate Farm Technologies for Cold and Dry Zones of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas, published by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). Our thanks to ICIMOD for permission to print this excerpted article. For further information on the above-named publication, please see the "Selected resources of interest" column published elsewhere in this issue of ALN.]


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Without conservation measures and land management planning on extremely fragile terrain, as in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya (HKH) region, the threat of land degradation and loss of fertile soil will exacerbate. Based on land-use patterns, land resources are generally classified into natural resources and farm resources. Conservation and development of both classes should evolve together for a sustainable mountain environment. Since both are inter-related, any negative impact on the health of one class is quickly reflected in the other. While planning for a long term, profitable mountain farming system, the parallel development of adjoining natural resources has to be taken into account.

Soil is the primary resource base for both classes of land. Loss of valuable soil due to wind and water erosion and depletion of soil fertility are emerging as the primary constraints to sustainable land use within the mountain ecosystem. HKH soils require scientifically based, site-specific soil and land management practices because of their shallowness (i.e., less than 20cm deep) with extensive colluvial slopes. Nizami (1996) described the characteristics of HKH soils. The soils have a well humidified, dark color. The amount of organic matter is generally one to two per cent.

The soil's organic matter content and thickness are generally greater on cooler and wetter aspects. HKH soils are mostly gravelly, coarse to moderately coarse in texture, and susceptible to erosion. The severity of erosion is linked with the gradient of the slope and vegetal cover at a particular location. Soils are calcareous, the content ranging from weak to strong, and the reaction to alkaline - with a pH range of 7.0 to 8.4 - is neutral.

The changing socioeconomic scenario of the HKH region is causing disturbances on rangelands and watershed areas, along with a rapid deterioration of chemical and physical properties and a declining fertility status of most soils. Thus, technologies included in this article deal with natural resource rehabilitation, conservation, and improvement, as well as land preparation and means of improving the soil fertility of farm resources.

Range improvement using the three strata model


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The Three Strata Model (TSM) counts as a range improvement technology. It involves the rehabilitation and management of degraded ranges, as well as the improvement of relatively sustainable grazing areas, by constructing and harvesting the vegetal structure in a sequence of strata (i.e., grasses and forbs, shrubs and trees). TSM ensures increased and sustainable forage supplies to livestock, mainly during lean periods, and persistent supplies of firewood for domestic use. TSM creates a more pleasing environment, as some strata will remain green all year round.


Many considerations must be taken into account when constructing a stratified plant community with multiple benefits on rangelands. These include biological, ecological, and cultural uses as well as socioeconomic factors. Plant species which complement each other and are of multiple use are extremely desirable. For example, mixing leguminous herbs with grasses in the lowest stratum would not only improve the nutritive quality of forage for animals, but would also increase yields due to improved soil fertility by legumes. Similarly, the inclusion of leguminous, non-leguminous and palatable shrubs in the middle stratum, and trees in the upper stratum, would improve the micro-climate for lower strata species that would result in their greater diversity, richness, and pronounced socioeconomic benefits. Thus, one of the crucial points for range re-seeding operations is the selection of proper species. For most of the HKH arid tract, the species to be seeded must be drought resistant, palatable, and salt tolerant. Among the grasses, Lasiurus sindicus, Cenchrus ciliaris, etc. are recommended for this type of tract. Re-seeding by conventional means is likely to fail in low rainfall areas. Therefore, seeding of grasses coupled with water-harvesting techniques, such as spreading, pitting, contour trenching, and furrowing, is needed for the success of seeding operations.

From the existing native vegetation, it is evident that shrubs are capable of withstanding the harshness of the arid climate as well as heavy grazing pressure. Shrubs provide good forage during winter when grasses disappear or dry up. Shrubs usually contain more protein than grasses. Certain trees and shrubs possess morphological and physiological elasticity in relation to drought. Fodder shrubs and trees possess a definite potential for resolving climatic, biological, social, and economic constraints encountered in arid and semiarid areas. The following trees and shrubs are recommended for planting in the HKH belt, along with the above-mentioned grasses:

  • Acacia nilotica
  • A. modesta
  • A. tortilis
  • Prosopis cineraria
  • Tecoma undulata
  • Zizyphus mauritiana
  • Z. nummularia
  • Atriplex nummularia
  • A. polycarpa
  • A. canescens
  • Opuntia indica
  • Tamarix aphylla

Seabuckthorn - A magic plant for dry mountains


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Seabuckthorn (Hippophae spp) is a deciduous shrub, widely distributed throughout the temperate zones of Asia and Europe and the subtropical zones of Asia at high altitudes. It is commonly found throughout the countries of the HKH region. It has a highly developed root system, which is excellent for holding soils on a fragile slope. In seabuckthorn-planted areas, loss of topsoil caused by seasonal monsoons can decrease to less than 30 per cent, and it is possible to hold more than 80 per cent of water in the ground. Seabuckthorn has the ability to take root even in poor soils, because it can fix nitrogen directly from air through the nodules in its roots. A natural seabuckthorn forest can yield 750 to 1,500 kg of berries per hectare. Its fruit is a rich source of vitamins. Oil from the pulp and seeds is valued for its medicinal properties. It supplies palatable forage to all classes of livestock during most of the year.


Seabuckthorn is described as the most appropriate multipurpose biological option for mountain areas. Its fruit can be used for making more than 100 products such as soft/hard/powdered drinks, jams, sweets, cosmetics, and medicines. Despite the scientifically proven potential of seabuckthorn for manufacturing several high-value products for human consumption, its harvesting is constrained by the lack of appropriate technologies and facilities for processing. China and several central Asian states used it effectively in industries related to food and medicine.

Use in the food industry: At present, many factories are producing seabuckthorn food, beverages. and other products such as jam, jelly, juices, and syrup. Along with traditional foods, some new ones such as condensed juice, mixed juice, seabuckthorn carrot jam, candied fruit, seabuckthorn cheese, seabuckthorn butter, tea, and health protection drinks are also being produced.

Use in the medicinal industry: About ten varieties of seabuckthorn drugs have been developed and are available in the form of liquids, powders, plaster, pastes, pills, liniments, aerosols, etc. These drugs are used for treating burns, gastric ulcers, chilblains, scales, oral mucosities, rectal mucosities, cervical erosion, radiation damage, skin ulcers caused by malnutrition, and other damage relating to the skin. The most important pharmacological function of seabuckthorn oil is in diminishing inflammation, disinfecting bacteria, relieving pain, and promoting regeneration of tissue.

Use in the cosmetic industry: Many kinds of seabuckthorn cosmetics have been developed and tested in hospitals. It is proved that seabuckthorn beauty cream has positive therapeutic effects on melanosis, skin wrinkles, keratoderma, keratosis, senile plaque, xeroderma, facial acne, recurrent dermatitis, chemical corrosion and inchthyosis, as well as freckles. Other seabuckthorn extracts can improve metabolism and retard skin maturation. In China, it has been found that seabuckthorn products can cure 16 tropical diseases.

The use of leaves and residues: The leaves of seabuckthorn contain many nutrients and bioactive substances. Leaves and fruit residue used as supplementary food can promote growth of animals and poultry. There are no toxic or carcinogenic side effects.

Use as a food additive: The pigments of seabuckthorn are widely used as a food additive. Seabuckthorn yellow consists of flavours, carotene, and vitamin E. Its physio-chemical properties, such as appearance, solubility, color value, heat and light stability, and effect of pH and metabolic ions, make it a very useful food additive.

Role in maintaining ecological balance: It has been observed that a number of wildlife species depend on seabuckthorn stems, leaves, flowers, roots, fruit, and seed. In the Loess Plateau of China, 51 bird species are entirely dependent and 80 bird species are relatively dependent on seabuckthorn for their food. In winter, the importance of seabuckthorn increases as it is almost the only food available for birds. Seabuckthorn provides long-term benefits in terms of maintaining the ecological equilibrium and improving the environment.

Use as fuelwood forest: In the HKH region, plant biomass is the most important source of energy. Seabuckthorn has proved to be a popular green energy plant because of its quality biomass. The calorific value of dry seabuckthorn wood is 4,785.5 calories per kg. It is a good source of firewood. In a six-year old seabuckthorn forest, each hectare can produce 18 tons of firewood, equal to nearly 12.6 tons of standard coal.

Fourwing Saltbush - A forage shrub for arid highlands


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This technology has been tested successfully in the arid highlands of Balochistan, Pakistan.

Fourwing saltbush can be established in cold and arid zones of the HKH region by using the proper techniques for soil moisture conservation. The most valuable characteristics of this plant include its tolerance for extreme drought, cold, and high quality browsing facility, especially during the autumn and winter months. This shrub is a perennial halophyte which continues to produce green leaves and twigs round the year. Fourwing saltbush is an excellent seed producer, with the seeds maturing from October to December. The seeds dry on the plant, thus allowing some flexibility in harvesting.

It can also be used as fuelwood in addition to forage for livestock. About 0.5 to 1.O kg of dry wood per plant can be obtained after an initial two years of plant growth and then each year. Fourwing saltbush can be promoted as a sustainable source of fuelwood and can help reduce the uprooting of local shrubs from already denuded rangelands.


Atriplex canescens, commonly known as fourwing saltbush, is an evergreen shrub with dense foliage, 1.8 to 2.7m high. It bears male and female flowers on separate plants. The flowering period is from July to August. Fourwing saltbush has an extensive root system and is adapted to a wide range of soils and climates. It thrives in areas with a mean annual precipitation of 250mm. Below 200 to 250mm, additional water from runoff, irrigation, or the presence of a water table is mandatory for good production. Fourwing saltbush shows good adaptation to cold environments, withstanding temperatures as low as -20 C. On the other hand, it can survive at 35 C during hot dry periods in arid climates. It does better on shallower, silty soils, for example, soils having shallow lime crusts, etc. Fourwing saltbush has a good tolerance for saline conditions.

Normally, the seeds do not germinate under natural rainfed conditions, so direct seeding is not recommended. The best way to grow this plant is in the nursery. Germination takes place in about seven to 1O days in spring, summer, and early autumn.

Seedlings are transplanted at four to five months of age in the winter rainfall season. However, planting can be carried out throughout the year if irrigation is available. Under rainfed conditions, it is recommended that the first watering should take place at the time of planting to help the plants establish their roots deep in the soil.

Fourwing saltbush can be planted in holes (0.5m deep and 0.5m wide) to collect and store rain water. It can also be planted in ripped lines. For raising forage reserves, a 2 x 2m plant-to-plant distance is recommended that may be changed according to the type of plantation. Plants should be protected from grazing until they are about 18 months old and have woody stems and a well-developed root system. Plants can be grazed during winter without reducing the vigor of the shrub. However, heavy use in late summer or autumn could be detrimental to the plants. Sheep and goats would require an adaptation period of 10 to 15 days for grazing and then the farmer should increase their herbage intake over time. An average biomass of 1,200 - 1,600kg dry matter could be obtained per hectare, which is sufficient for six sheep to graze the area for three months.

Fourwing saltbush can withstand moderate to heavy grazing pressure and responds vigorously by re-sprouting the next spring. Plants become woody and less palatable if not grazed or pruned after two years of growth. Therefore, periodic grazing or pruning is required to keep plants highly productive and palatable. The quality of feed improves significantly after pruning, particularly the protein and carotene content of leaves. In addition, access for animals to graze the plant efficiently is also improved after periodic grazing and cutting.

Fourwing saltbush generally possesses a low energy value due to the high mineral content. The energy value is enough to supply the maintenance needs of sheep if they consume 1.2 to 1.5kg of dry matter (DM) per day. An important quality of this species is its high protein content, which can be as high as 15 to 20 per cent. The digestibility of dry matter and organic matter could be 60 and 50 per cent, respectively. The digestibility of nitrogen ranges from 50-55 per cent.

Kallar Grass for biological reclamation of saline and waterlogged areas


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Kallar grass (Leptochloa fusca) for biological reclamation of saline and waterlogged areas is widely distributed in salt-affected areas of Australia, India, Pakistan, the USA, and other tropical arid and semi-arid regions of the world. It is easily propagated through seed, stem cuttings, or root stumps and exhibits excellent growth under saline, sodic, and flooded soil conditions. Kallar grass is amongst the few plant species that are well adapted to both waterlogged and saline conditions.


Kallar grass is grown on salt-affected and waterlogged soils with peak yields during the rainy monsoon season. The stump planting requires regular flooding for good growth and survival. This vegetation can evaporate large quantities of groundwater. An added advantage of kallar grass under waterlogged conditions is that it reduces the salinity of groundwater and provides a better environment for other plants. The high tolerance of kallar grass to being waterlogged is obviously related to its ability to efficiently transport oxygen through its aerial parts to aerate the root system via internal air channels (parenchyma) in the same manner as rice and other wetland species. Similar to many other monocot species, this species is capable of producing numerous adventitious roots that emerge from the base of each node on the shoot when in water or wet soils.

The species does not grow without excessive salts and vanishes when salts are removed. This is an advantage because the grass cannot become a weed in non-saline and improved soils. Soils on which kallar grass is grown may improve sufficiently to support the growth of other field crops. Many farmers in Pakistan have reclaimed their salt-affected wastelands by growing kallar grass for three to five years continuously, until less salt tolerant and even sensitive plants could be cultivated. Farmers are now making a good living by raising buffalo, cattle, goats, and sheep on this reclaimed land. A large number of small farmers are now adopting this practice, thus reducing rural to urban migration.

Shoot foliage can increase organic matter, humus, and soil mulching, decrease surface evaporation, and improve physical properties of the soil. Thus, with the passage of time, this process of amelioration can improve problem soils.


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Nizami, M.M.I, 1996. Sustainable use of soil resources in dry and cold mountains. In Proceedings of the Regional Workshop on Sustainable Agriculture in Dry and Cold Mountain Area, September 5-27, 1995. Pakistan and Nepal: Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) and ICIMOD.

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Author information

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Inquiries regarding this article may be directed to ICIMOD, as follows:
4/80 Jawalakhel
G.P.O. Box 3226
Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: (977-1) 525313
Fax: (977-1) 524509, 536747

Additional web resources:

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International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)
ICIMOD is an international organization committed to improving the livelihoods of mountain communities. The Centre is multidisciplinary and focuses mainly on the Hindu Kush-Himalaya region of Asia, but has much to offer other mountainous regions of the world as well.

Three-strata Forage System (TSFS) - A Farming Solution for Semi-Arid Areas
This article, from the web site of the International Development Research Centre of Canada, reports on the Three-strata Forage System as it is being developed in the semi-arid regions of Bali, Indonesia.

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