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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

Santacruz locals shower efforts, neem paste to save rain trees

Armed with 60kg of neem paste and a will to save dying rain trees in their area, two groups of 25 eco-warriors each stepped out of their houses on a hot Thursday morning in Santacruz.

mumbai Updated: May 07, 2015 22:08 IST
Badri Chatterjee and Aishwarya Iyer
Badri Chatterjee and Aishwarya Iyer
Hindustan Times
NGO-members-with-locals-applied-neem-paste-at-the-base-of-50-trees-infested-with-mealy-bug-at-Santacruz-in-Mumbai-Photo-Sanjay-Solanki( )

Armed with 60kg of neem paste and a will to save dying rain trees in their area, two groups of 25 eco-warriors each stepped out of their houses on a hot Thursday morning in Santacruz. And within a few hours, their mission – applying neem paste at the base of 50 trees infested with mealy bug – was accomplished.

“When we learned about the problem, we started to think of ways to save the rain trees from dying. With citizens from H-East ward willing to help, we thought of trying the neem treatment. We have applied the neem paste, and the trees will now have to be watered for the next three days. This will be handled by the garden department of the civic body,” said Leena Prabhoo, chairperson, NGO Forum for Improving Quality of Life in Mumbai Suburbs, one of the two groups involved in the project, adding the process will be repeated on June 7.

The garden department said the method has worked earlier. “Local zonal officers had first applied neem paste on two trees and the results were great. On Thursday, we tried using it on 50 affected trees, and other trees from Golibar and Nehru Road areas. We are confident of a positive outcome,” said Vijay Hire, superintendent, garden department, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.

Environmentalists and botanists, however, are sceptical about the belief that mealy bugs are killing the trees. “People need to check if the roots of the trees are in concrete roads and open them up. Mealy bugs thrive in concretised surfaces. The residents and the BMC should geo-tag the trees in their areas and form tree-protection teams in their housing societies,” said environmentalist Anand Pendharkar.

Botanists feel the trees are dying because of an infection from an unidentified organism that needs to be identified. Botanist Marselin Almeida said, “Neem can kill a few insects, but not all of them. The infection is not because of mealy bug. We need to find the cause of the infection. We have suggested certain measures to the civic body, but they are yet to consider them."

The problem
According to the census conducted by the officials of the garden department of the civic body in 2007-08, 499 of the 3,500 rain trees across Mumbai are infected with mealy bugs. “Of these, close to 350 are recovering slowly,” said Vijay Hire, superintendent, garden department

Why you should care
* An exotic plant originally found in the southern hemisphere, rain trees have canopies that go as high as 80-100ft

* The rain tree brings down the temperature of its surroundings

* It keeps the air pure by absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide

* One way to reverse the damage caused by mealy bugs is to strengthen the trees by de-concretising the area around the trunk of the tree, adding layers of soil to it and watering the area till the start of monsoon

* With this, the roots will spread out and get the needed nutrients

* Ladybug beetles can also be used as an antidote, as they eat mealy bugs

“We need to investigate the cause of the death of rain trees. Mealy bug infection is not the only reason why trees die. The application of neem as an insecticide needs to be done in a scientific method.”
~ Prashant Mahajan, director and learning catalyst, Somaiya Centre of experimental learning