As spring sets in, horticulture societies in various cities arrange flower shows to attract people. Devoid of general greenery in the overpopulated and crowded mohallahs, families throng to these flower shows to enjoy the atmosphere. Because of the special interest the Punjab Chief Minister takes in the city, Lahore holds the crown of City of Gardens; a promenade through its famous parks is pure pleasure.

And then, there is the plantation drive. As a nation, we have a habit of overdoing both the best and worst of things until we end up hurting ourselves. In an effort to impress citizens, foreign plants and flower varieties are being introduced into our ecosystem without studying their effects on the local environment; this tampers with Mother Nature. In history, whenever humankind has tampered with nature, results are catastrophic for the local ecosystem. As explorers navigated around the globe, they introduced exotic flora and fauna, which proved harmful. Therefore, Western nations are now very careful at their borders and allow only controlled exotic flora or fauna into their ecosystems.

We as a nation, do not learn from our history or that of other nations. Islamabad is a most recent case study. Trees, shrubs and herbs were indiscriminately introduced, and now local floral has become alien in Islamabad and generations have to live with the consequences of the ill-thought out actions of a few. Ask anyone suffering from hay fever in Islamabad what they have to say for those who thought of planting exotic plant species. Unfortunately, birds cannot complain; otherwise they might have lodged a protest of the theft of an entire local ecosystem.

Amazingly, tampering with Mother Nature does not stop here; we are cultivating imported varieties of fruits such as apple and grape without studying the long-term effects of these fruits on the local environment. There are numerous questions to be answered. Were these varieties quarantined and examined by relevant responsible departments before being introduced into the local ecosystem? As I said above, we do not learn from history, are both short sighted and have short memories. Our indigenous jewel cotton crop is one example; how it was permanently contaminated when an exotic cotton variety was introduced for the benefit of local farmers. Now our cotton is plagued with pesticides and does not command ‘the price’ in the international market. Another classic case is of indiscriminately introducing fast-growing mulberry trees in the country. Finally, it has been recognised that these trees suck the local water bed dry and are harmful to the ecosystem.

I am a Pindite and might not vouch for other cities, but I can see date trees being planted around my city for beautification. If I remember correctly, a similar (and futile) effort was made before in Islamabad. The practical utility of these date trees or any other flora to the local Potohar region, is beyond comprehension. Everywhere, Mother Nature has created local flora which is compatible to that specific local ecosystem. Thus, generally, trees in plains have canopies for providing, amongst other things, shade during a blistering and scorching summer, and wood for burning during winter. Furthermore, we have folklores related to Banyan and Neem trees, which are an essential part of our village culture. On these indigenous trees, children play, and beneath their ample canopies elders sip their tea and converse about their worlds. Let us not make these images history because of our short-sightedness.

At the macro level, the government should effectively devise and implement policies to check the reckless and imprudent introduction of exotic flora to the country. The government should identify and fix the responsibilities of various stakeholders of the policy. At the meso level, efforts should be made to build the capacity of various stakeholders to act individually and collectively for a common goal:

First, the related government ministry should register and regulate firms that are introducing or proposing to introduce new varieties to the local ecosystem.

Second, customs departments which control national entry and exit points should be educated and trained on this sensitive issue.

Third, since this is a technical issue, relevant academic and Research and Development institutions should be involved as important stakeholders of the policy. We have many reputable agricultural universities and it’s high time their expertise is used to give inputs on the policy formulation and capacity building of various government departments. Furthermore, they should actively study exotic flora and give recommendations on their suitability to the local ecosystem.

In sum, there is a need to take a holistic view of the question of the protection of local flora and thus fauna, through a well-directed and result oriented policy with identifiable milestones. Finally, policy once devised should be debated publicly before being put into implementation.

 The writer is an engineer and research scholar.