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The Ghaf tree also known as Prosopis cineraria has been an essential part of the UAE’s distinctive desert environment and the civilization that have emerged here in the Emirates. Ghaf tree culturally and traditionally is as valuable and precious as it is ecologically. Groves of ghaf grow naturally in the desert sands and wide wadis in all emirates, but unfortunately they are becoming extinct. In this project we will discuss the causes of extinction of the Ghaf tree, why it is threatened and the impacts that could lead to the extinction of the Ghaf tree.
Forests are fabulous places, were you can see different types of Insects, mammals and birds. They are also places that embrace various flowers, trees and grasses. Actually, this sight maybe a good explanation that illustrates the term “Biodiversity”. Biodiversity is a vague word that has many definitions among researchers and scientists. In fact, researchers have different definitions according to their different goals, perspectives and values. Takacs (1996) defined the biodiversity as a “full variety of life on Earth”, while Chadwick (1993) thinks that this word is simply defined as “nature” or “wilderness”. However, the general idea among all the researchers is that the biodiversity is the study of the process that makes and sustains the variation of the species on the earth (redpath-museum, 2010). It illustrates the idea of the relationship between the individual and the population, and the population with the community. Moreover, biodiversity is considered as a part of nature because it plays a big role in affecting animals and plants in both terrestrial and aquatic biomes (Ecosystem, 2008).
Due to researches, there are three main types of biodiversity. The first type is the ecological or ecosystem diversity. An ecosystem is a structure which includes living organisms and non living organisms functioning together to maintain the life cycle (Ecosystem, 2008). The ecological diversity refers to the total of different types of ecosystems with the different species within them. The diversity of species within an ecosystem is affected by the ecosystem itself. That is because each species need a different habitat that it is suitable to live and reproduce within it. The second type is the species diversity. It means the number of plants and animals that exist in an area. Essentially, some regions are richer of species than other regions. For example, the tropical forests have much more species than other regions like the poles. The third type is the genetic diversity. This type explains that each member or individual within a species is different from the other members from the same species (BIODIVERSITY, 2010). The differences are in the genetic structure that gives each member his own characteristics. A clear example for the genetic biodiversity is the human beings. Each person has different characteristics than the others because of the genetic building in each one of them. In fact, the genetic diversity is crucial for the species health and diversity because it keeps the diversity among individuals and therefore protects the species from being extinct.
In this project, we are concerning on one species from the allover species on the earth which is the “the Ghaf tree”. The Ghaf tree’s classification is as follows: “kingdom: plantae, Phylum: Magnoliophyta, Class: Magnoliopsida, Family: Fabaceae, Genus: Prosopis, Species: cineraria”(ARkive, 2010). Thus, we can point that the scientific name of that tree is “Prosopis cineraria”. There are many local names for this tree. For example, it is known as “Ghaf” for Arabian, “jandi”or “khejri” for Indian, and “jand” for Pakistani. (Agroforestry Database 4.0, 2009). Since the species is considered as a plant, it is a “producer”. That means that the species stands in the first trophic level (uaehoverfly, 2010).
The Prosopis cineraria is a “moderate sized evergreen thorny tree” (experiencefestival, 2010) of 3-5 m high (Agroforestry Database 4.0, 2009). It is considered as a rapid growing tree that resists the dryness and the arid conditions because of the variability of the tree’s growth (Asian Agri-History, 2004). Moreover, it resists the hot weather and the dry and hot winds. Thus, it is considered as one of the most species that withstood the difficult conditions of environment. It has also a “dense shade” that kills the seedling (experiencefestival, 2010). Its roots are fast growing even more than the upper part of it. They are long enough that it can use the water in the deep soil layers. As reports say, the Ghaf tree roots may reach to a depth of 35 meters (experience festival, 2010). The leaves are “glabrous” which are mostly green but seems to be gray when it gets dry (Agroforestry Database 4.0, 2009). It produces a yellow flowers near the summer between March to May, in the time which most of the plants are leafless. Actually this occurs at an early age when the tree is five years old. The Ghaf tree is planted and grown in arid places were the climate is dry and the maximum temperatures “varies from 48 deg C to 52 deg C” while the annual rainfall is “120 mm to 250 mm”(Agroforestry Database 4.0, 2009). It is mostly grown on sandy soils where the lower part is moisture to help its roots to get water.
The “relational position” (sciencedaily, 2010) of the Ghaf tree among the ecosystem is high and strong. It has a historical story with the people who lived in rural places were this species actually grow. The reason is that this tree is a “legume” that helps to fertile the soil. Moreover, it has a big role in stabling the sand dunes and the agriculture harvests because of the deep roots it owns, the ability of fixing the nitrogen and the ability of providing the soil with important organic substances (Asian Agri-History, 2004). Also, this tree is a main source of getting fuel wood, fodder and medicines. In fact, this tree plays an important role in sustaining the delicate and the dry ecosystems. Researchers insure by the data’s support that the Prosopis cineraria has the priority in the improvement that contains fragile areas (Asian Agri-History, 2004).
Figure 1: The Species Distribution In The World.
Figure (1) below shows the world map pointed with the countries in which the Ghaf tree is planted. According to the figure, the species is planted in such specific countries like Afghanistan, dry areas of Central and Southern India, West Iran and Pakistan, and Sri Lanka (Agroforestry Database 4.0, 2009). However, the species can be planted in other countries science the environmental and climatic conditions mentioned above are available in them. The evidence of that is it that the species is invasive to other countries like the United Arab Emirates. In other words, this species cannot be planted in anywhere except those which are pointed in the figure, but it can be invasive to some parts of the world where the conditions are suitable.
An endangered species is a group of living organisms which face a significant risk of being extinct in the near future or disappearance from earth if a solution is not discovered . Extinction happens for a number of different reasons such as change of climate , natural disasters, drop in the number of species ,oil spills by humans, acid rains, water pollution, and last but not least over-hunting by humans.
Al Ghaf tree or “Prosopis cineraria” as a scientific name, is one of the most famous and spread trees in the UAE. It has a very important national status , it was composed for a long time apart from the desert nature of UAE, so it has a very historical status, Ghaf tree grows in UAE deserts and valleys as a natural tree, especially in the eastern part of UAE. It belongs to the dry region plants as a thorny tree. It is an evergreen tree with slender branches armed with conical thorns and with light bluish-green foliage; its height is more than 7 meters.
This tree has been around for centuries , and it is considered to be one of the most important trees for the natural balance , it increases the vitality of the soil by fixing atmospheric nitrogen (Saving the Arabian ghaf tree, 2006).
The ghaf tree is considered to be endangered for reasons such as ignorance of the importance of this tree as it doesn’t get the support and care that it should get , Camels have increased lately and camels depends on ghaf tree as a source of food, Cutting its branches as fodder , Lack of groundwater, as experts are always looking for groundwater to use it for everyday life and agriculture needs.
The Ghaf tree grows separately or in groups, and it can afford all desert difficulties because of its long and deep roots which extend to more than 30 meters underground (The Prosopis cineraria, 2010 ), It has a massive and nested branches, that is why it is called “the umbrella tree” or “the dunes tree” as it grows in deserts dunes.
Al Ghaf is one of the most important trees for the natural balance, it increases the vitality of the soil by producing Neutrogen. Ghaf was used in the past in cooking; getting food, wood as a material for building roofs, and for garnishing and decorating (Al Ghaf tree report, 2009).
Unfortunately, Ghaf tree is missing real care and support.
Reasons for Extinction
Ignorance of the importance of this tree as it doesn’t get the support and care that it should get .
Urban expansion which leads to getting rid of and cutting such trees.
Camels have increased lately and they depends on ghaf tree as a source of food.
Cutting its branches as fodder.
Lack of groundwater, as experts are always looking for groundwater to use it for life and agriculture needs.
Sadly , the ghaf tree has fallen a victim to human destruction of the environment all for the selfishness of us human beings and that is what lead to the ghaf tree being endangered. Human impact is one of the most affecting reasons in the ghaf trees’ disappearance because of urban booming and infrastructure, and what’s most important is people’s ignorance as to the importance of this tree.
Government and societies should spread knowledge about this tree by creating events held specifically in order to save the ghaf tree . Governments should also try to state laws and punishments in order to save this tree from over cutting and demolishing that could eventually lead to extinction.
Many domestic societies are looking forward to adopting the ghaf tree as a symbol for the UAE’s natural culture and in different fields as well for its important status (Saving the ghaf tree, 2007).
Figure 2 shows the popularity of the ghaf tree over the years. This table shows us that the ghaf tree is not well-known and that explains the ignorance that is associated towards this tree.
Figure 2: Popularity of Al-Ghaf Tree Over Time
Source: (Popularity of Prosopis Cineraria over time, 2007)
Causes of Extinction
The Ghaf tree is under threat of extinction. The plant has been realized by several environmentalists and social scientists in the United Arab Emirates as a symbol of the natural history of the country and a tree that carries several values. The tree has been under such threat due to several reasons some of which have occurred in past circumstances while others due to current circumstances. Past reasons of extinction include distortions in the ecosystem and lack of natural water resources while present reasons include urbanization and public ignorance.
The Ghaf tree has “been an essential food source, as well as a source of fuel, shelter and medicine. Its leaves were once used instead of rice, its elongated pods provide fodder for animals which in turn supply milk, butter, cheese and meat” (WWF 2008). The tree is well known to provide food for the ecosystem members such as insects, small birds and reptiles and its presence is indeed a signal of underground water. Due to such facts, the rise in number of camels in the region brought by the economic boom of the region has resulted in a distortion of this ecosystem. There are over 250,000 camels in the UAE that graze and coppice over the Ghaf trees (FAOSTAT 2004). Also in the past, when agriculture was a larger sector of the UAE economy ground water was used for irrigation of such plantations this has possessed a greater risk of depriving hydration for the Ghaf trees and has resulted in the death of many of the trees.
The current reasons of extinction threat towards the Ghaf tree include the urbanization and fast development of the region along with public ignorance. The UAE’s economic boom has brought a large population growth followed by a demand for real estate. Such a demand created the need for urban development including infrastructural foundations such as highways, electric lines, underground water pipelines and more. This has resulted in the removal several fauna and flora from the region including the Ghaf tree. In accordance the ecosystem has also been further affected irreversibly where birds have migrated away that used the Ghaf tree leaves as a source of food. The reproduction rate of the Ghaf is incomparable to the rate of their decease in the region, whereas according to Razan Khalifa, managing director of the Emirates Wildlife Society: “given that the ghaf is a slow grower, over-lopping is extremely harmful to its numbers. Land clearance for developmental projects [;] Many ghaf trees among others are ruthlessly chopped down to make way for modern projects in the desert” (Al Majaida 2006).
The first measures taken in the United Arab Emirates was taken by the former president of the UAE, H.H Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan that was very passionate about conservation and environmental issues. The former president used to keep Ghaf trees that were found in his palace areas encompassed within a circle of bricks in order to prevent its removal. The former UAE president also placed a law that banned the chopping of Ghaf trees in the areas of Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. He also provided grants for environmentalists that intended to find solutions for elongating their survival and he provided subsidies to the municipalities of the region to spread the tree in the region.
In 2006 the Emirates Wildlife Society along with the Al Fahim Group launched a campaign to save the Al Ghaf tree in which visitors of the web site campaign and vote to elect the tree as the national symbol of historical nature in the United Arab Emirates calling for government support to take actions to prevent the extinction of the tree (De Roy 2006). Furthermore, the web site is titled savetheghaftree.org aims to spread awareness about three by sending out public relation tools such as newsletters and posters in order to educate subscribers about the importance of preserving the heritage and natural culture of the United Arab Emirates. The strategic alliances of this campaign included AMEinfo.com, Al Fahim Group, Emirates Wildlife Society in association with World Wildlife Fund, UAE-based publishing houses such as Ahlan magazine by ITP, UAE nationals and desert lovers from all nationalities within the UAE.
The campaign has been designed to target media through mall promotions for a two month period between the end of 2006 and the beginning of the following year. Moreover, the web site includes interactive media that allows subscribers to create their own Ghaf garden and compare their performances with one another. The concept follows on to translate virtual objectivity into reality in which the Emirates Wildlife Society with the sponsorship of the Al Fahim Group will plant an actual Ghaf tree in conserved groves for every ten virtual Ghaf trees grown online. Finally the online portal allows visitors to discuss stories about the Ghaf tree where pictures, designs, thoughts and suggestions can be shared among groups of people.
The results of the campaign came as impressive in less than a year where more than a thousand trees have been planted within less than ten weeks online and a hundred trees were planted by Al Fahim Group and the EWS. Email blasts have resulted in the voting for the Ghaf tree as a national symbol to reach more than three thousand votes. The news spread to government entities such as the Abu Dhabi government that have placed efforts to spread such awareness among schools and their own department in terms of seeking the conservation and protection of the Ghaf tree. The media has also followed up on the campaign by adding television interviews. This was also followed by more environmentalists pursuing research on the Ghaf tree and finding appropriate soil conditions to elongate life spans. To further strengthen the campaign the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and the Abu Dhabi Culture and Heritage Authority provided voting ballot cards from the campaign in their advertisements, flyers and invitations during the 4th Abu Dhabi Classical Music Festival (De Roy 2006).
The Horticulture Department of the Dubai Municipality has also taken deep measures in 2008 to save the Ghaf tree by spreading it all around the parks in the city of Dubai. The Al Mushrif Forest Park in Deira, off Al Khawaneej area, is home to almost sixty thousand trees. Due to the requirement of water for the survival of the Ghaf tree the municipality has placed intensive efforts in planting new Ghaf trees and relocating more than seven thousand trees from areas all over Dubai such Al Barsha to the park in spots that contain more water and are more hydration accessible (Al Khan 2008). This can also be shown in figure 3 where according to environmental researches Ghaf trees in Dubai have lost average radiuses meaning that lack of water is signaling the relocation of the trees to water abundant areas:
Figure 3: Size Distribution of Ghaf trees in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve
It is important to note here that such an effort is significant due to the nature of the Ghaf tree that grows a long root tap in natural conditions, almost 30 meters, whereas its translocation can sever its roots “and these trees may therefore be reliant on artificial irrigation for many years” (Gardner & Howarth 2009).
Call to Action
Source: Gallacher & Hill (2005)
The government of the UAE
can spread the awareness of the Ghaf tree by starting such awareness within schools and placing the tree as a national symbol in the UAE society curriculums that students study in schools. The government can also provide incentives for environmental companies and research groups with the UAE and the GCC in order to spread the awareness and provide a long term growth strategy for the clusters of the Ghaf trees in the region. In addition, the government can also provide more campaigns in malls and population-intensive areas to spread the awareness. A great example would be placing a plastic model of the tree in the middle of mall or using the ghaf tree on the national day along with the UAE cultural identity to enhance its importance and vitality to ensuring the natural heritage of the nation. Finally the government can provide shuttle buses for the public in order to visit Ghaf tree areas and give them a tour of the place.
Another suggestion starts from the individual point of view. The ghaf tree is being in threat of extinction due to other factors as well such as pollution and the over usage of water. In order to start that individual incentive it is important to fulfill self-conscience satisfaction when an individual saves a Ghaf tree. This can be done by saving water and looking at the difference consumption levels of water and hence using some of the saved water to visit ghaf trees and place water at these sites.
The media is one of the strongest tools for changing opinions and driving trends in a society. It can play a strong role in saving the Ghaf tree and idolizing it as the UAE environmental symbol. The media is divided according to the mediums of channeling a communicatory message, that is, by radio, television or public relations. Television campaigns suggested can include environmental game shows that ask audience questions about the environment in which the ghaf tree can be used. As for radio campaigns, competitions in early morning shows during high peak times can be broadcasted in order to spread the message about the Ghaf tree. As for public relations, holding press conferences and events for environmentalists that show results of the previous campaign in the UAE can be very important to show how the tree has changed the environment and how opinions in the region have changed as a result of such campaigns. Public relations are a strong tool to alter reader’s opinion on the long run as compared to advertising. Finally, merchandising that are used in such media campaigns can be themed by designing them according to the Ghaf tree themes.
All in all it is quite significant to save the Ghaf tree from its extinction due to the importance of the tree from an environmental benefit point of view and from a preservation of culture and heritage point of view. From a global point of view several nations have used their own flora as a symbol of their geographical presence and as the UAE enters the international arena as a major economic and multicultural hub in the region it is vital to use one of the oldest and most appreciated plants as a representation of the nation’s vegetation. Furthermore, the culture of the UAE is based on Islamic values and learning which as mentioned in the holy Quran mention the need to respect all the living creatures that lurk on this planet. The fact that this foundation is the basis of many aspects in the UAE has made the idea of placing efforts and further education ethically and morally corrects to respect one of the most foregone trees that has always been present even before the economic uproar makes the Ghaf tree a preservation of the culture of the UAE. In the future when new generations are to come, the Ghaf trees that have been standing tall during our times will maintain their sturdy places and remind the unborn that these trees are the symbol of UAE culture and what has made the UAE and its leaders thrive to make the country what it really is.
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