Welcome Address


Betty Alberts

President's Office

National Academy of Sciences

Good morning.

On behalf of the president's office of the National Academy of Sciences, I want to welcome all of you experts on Prosopis to Washington, D.C.

It is a particular pleasure and honor for me to be here today because the Prosopis and I have some history in common. Permit me, as a non-Prosopis expert, to mention a bit of it here for my particular delight in seeing this three-day workshop happen.

I was lucky enough to have been brought up in the Hawaiian islands, on the island of Maui, where Prosopis, better known in Hawaii as the kiawe, which means to sway, dominated much of our landscape. The trees grew along the sandy beaches, in the semiarid lowlands (much to the dismay of the sugar-plantation operators), and on volcanic elevations used for cattle ranching up to about 2,000 feet. The Prosopis (or kiawe) was always considered both a nuisance due to its rugged ability to survive to the detriment of cash crops and a blessing for what it could providethat is, shelter, windbreaks, firewood, and, of course, animal feed.

Since the 1960s to the late 1980s, many of the kiawe forests along the south and western shores of Maui were removed to make way for tourist development and the big hotels. Some of the smarter hoteliers and golf-course architects left stands of kiawe here and there after they realized that erosion was occurring along with rapid development. They found, in many cases, that lush tropical vegetation could not replace the kiawe for wind protection and privacy. Water for those tropical plants was a major problem when compared to the needs of the kiawe.

On the north shore, where I grew up, the kiawe still dominates our beaches (thank goodness), providing excellent windbreaks and shade from the hot sun. I have mostly pleasant memories from my childhood associated with the kiawe. I'm reminded of the many good times at the beach collecting kiawe wood for barbecues. As Girl Scouts, we sought out kiawe wood for campfires and used the greener sticks for roasting hotdogs and marshmallows. Kiawe wood always made everything taste better.

I even made money from the kiawe tree. At the very back of our yard in Paia, Maui, and along many of the nearby canefields were large kiawe trees. During the summer holidays, beginning about age seven, I would fill huge burlap bags with those yellow beans that the farmers bought from us kids to feed the animals. It took each of us about two hours to fill a big bag and we made about 25 cents per bagbig bucks in those days. I loved the sweet smell of those beans contrasted with the smell of burlap sacks and, occasionally, ate a bean or two, thinking that the animals weren't so bad off. Those tastes and sweet sensations have persisted in my memory to this day. The pleasant memories are, however, punctuated with some pain, such as the day that my friends and I were playing in and around the kiawe trees that were in full bloom. We each proceeded to be stung by an irate bee, and as I started to run away I stepped on a huge old thorn which penetrated into the base of my big toe. My mother rushed me to the plantation clinic, as part of the thorn still remained in my foot. Insult was added to injury as I received a painful shot to numb my foot to remove the thorn tip and, then, received a tetanus shot as well. Between the bee sting, my injured toe, and the tetanus shot, I was miserable for several days and I'm sure I still have part of the thorn in my foot.

So, when I ventured off to India, to Gujarat and Rajasthan, in February 1995, I was surprised to find that several Indian friends and all of the guides I encountered kept referring to the trees along the highways and clumped in the desert as acacias. They didn't look like the acacias in Kenya and Tanzania or the acacia koa in Hawaii. My reference to Prosopis, or kiawe, fell on deaf ears, but, since the trees were thornless, I wasn't so sure. Finally, when I met my friend Dr. R. P. Dhir of the Central Arid Zone Research Institute in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, I was relieved to learn that they were indeed Prosopis, misidentified as acacias. I was truly impressed with the plantings I saw as we rode around the experimental station. What a boon to reforestation of the desertmy old friend the kiawe, destined for the Thar Desert, and the trees I saw were thornless. All the pleasure without the pain.

So, I, along with all those in attendance here, am looking forward to the pleasures of Prosopis for the next three days.

Thank you.