Monday, 8 October 2012

Human-Wildlife Conflict and Solutions for Farmers

The day farmers sow the seeds with onset of monsoon in the month of June, the farming couple has to start spending not just their days but also their nights in the sown fields to protect the crops from the attack of wild animals. For all the city-dwellers who carry romanticised ideas of rain-strewn landscapes, nothing is more contrasting in the middle of wilderness. If the field is small, the couple can at least stay together in the night and keep watch. Often times, the field needs at least two machaan (make-shift watchtowers) and the wife needs to keep watch from one corner and the husband from the other. These small makeshift machaan erected by the couple would be all there is to take rest and if possible little naps during the night. No matter whether it rains in the monsoon or the subsequent cold winter nights, the couple, at least the husband, has to spend nights in the field like this till January. Just a day’s negligence or absence, why, even an hour’s negligence would mean loss of the whole crop. So, starting from June till January when the last crop is finally harvested, this is the fateful struggle and married life of the couple.

A typical machaan erected in the field, constructed by the farmer himself. It is used to keep watch or to rest during night. In this photo, people were using it as a shelter from torrential rains.
View of part of the field from the machaan

Similar to the earlier years of setting field demos of self-reliant, biodiverse, low-external input multi-cropping model of agriculture, several farmers (like Mr. Janardan Kinkar whose case study was blogged earlier) did sow 15-30 different food crops even this year. In spite of literally heart-wrenching efforts, they couldn’t save several crops from the attack of the wild animals. The intrusion and damage is caused mostly by nilgai/blue bulls and wild boars, and several birds such as parrots, etc.. The damage is to the extent of 25% and upwards, sometimes without any upper limit.

Farmers don’t deny the importance of wild animals. No doubt the nation needs the wildlife and forests, but how can it be at the cost of agriculture? The sector is headed by economically backward families who are cornered from multiple directions already (such as grossly unremunerative prices for agro-produce, having no consideration for cost of production) by the government. But that would make for another topic. The real approach to solution for any conflict would be by resolving the apparent internal conflict of interests, such as the employer and the labour, producer and the consumer, and in this particular case, agriculture and forestry. The wild animals should be kept by the concerned department i.e. the forests from entering into the fields. The forest department should undertake various ecological (increasing resource value and inhabitability of forests) and mechanical interventions (trenches, fences and other barricades around forests and/or fields) to keep the farmers as well as the wildlife safe.

At Chetana-Vikas, the team takes special efforts to understand the gravity of the problem, have a dialogue with farmers and search for various measures by which the wildlife can be kept at bay at the local level. We must add, none of these innovations are of any lasting solace as the problem is of a greater magnitude still. This has been an uphill task without adequate policy support and macro-level changes. Human-wildlife conflict is hence one of the burning questions we have been tackling in past couple of months.

The ingenuity with which the farmers have invented ways to keep the wildlife at distance is at display here through some photographs.

Innovation 1: Long string with one end attached to the bell in the middle of the field and the other end is with the farmer in his machaan (watchtower). The sound scares away the animals and the birds.

Innovation 2: A burning oil lamp covered with an earthen pot with holes creates the impression of the eyes of a predator or a human. This is another way to scare the herbivores.

Innovation 3: a) Manufacturing oil lamps wrapped in plastic to give a magnified and distorted impression of flames in the field.

Innovation 3: b) The final product.
Innovation 4: Multi-tier fence. Chetana-Vikas has provided the technology to this low cost fence to the farmer seen in this photo, Mr. Atmaram Gurnule (right). The pilot experiment has shown encouraging results which will be tested for some more time and if successful, will be extended to other farmers. The lowest tier serves as hindrance to the entry of small and medium sized animals which can't jump (such as wild boar). The mid-level tier serves as hindrance to the entry of medium sized animals or animals that can hop. The top tier serves as hindrance to the entry of animals who can jump to considerable heights.

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