Whose survival? Wild animal vs. weakening farming households!
As a part of my usual field activities in Aga Khan Rural Support Programme- India, I have participated in a number of focused group discussion with the farmers to know challenges and opportunities across 4 districts of coastal Gujarat viz. Junagadh, Porbandar, Dwarka and Kutcch. The discussions in past one year have made me accustomed to, the presence of some common problems as visualized by farmers. As widely spoken and encountered, the challenges include a poor turnout of rainfall, deteriorating ground water quality (specific to the coastal agriculture), poor market realisation, increased insurgence of different type of pests, and non-availability of the labour during the peak season of the crop cycle. There is this one issue which is iterating and frequent, and is largely a nuisance for the farmers and needs immediate attention, the problem of intrusion of wild animals (wild board and blue bull in particular) in the cultivated crops. The 4 districts as mentioned have approximately 80 per cent of the cultivated land under attack causing damages from 40 per cent to 100 per cent of the standing crop. Other than Gujarat the problem also persists in Maharashtra (approx. 10,530 hectares affected), Palamau and adjoining districts in Jharkhand, and Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh (as reported by national dailies), though the extent of area under the problem is unknown.
|A flock of Blue Bulls (Nilgai) relaxing in fields|
|Damage done by wild boar|
Wild Life protection act of 1972 states in its Chapter-III, 11(b),
“hunting of Wild animals to be permitted in certain cases when the Chief Wildlife Warden or the authorised officer may if he is satisfied that any wild animal specified in Sch. II Sch, III or Sch. IV has become dangerous to human life or to property (including standing crops on any land) or is so disabled or diseased as to be beyond recovery, by order in writing and stating the reasons therefor, permit any person to hunt such animal or cause such animal to be hunted”
The major challenge which comes across as the dilemma of implementation of rights of killing is the identification of the animals and getting the permission to kill the animal and in a case of non-compliance with Chief Wildlife Warden, the persons will be a subject of criminal offense. The farmers do not take chances to get caught in the activity of saving its crops. The question arises, why these two particular wild animals started intruding or has seen an increased incidence in the human habitat and damaging crops. This quest of mine, when discussed with the farmers got some light. The natural predator, Wolf, is nowhere to be seen now in the local region. Two veteran farmers educated me that the wolves which used to co-exist in the local region, have vanished as the shepherd and cattle bearer community locally called “Maaldhari” has eradicated them all, the wolves would attack their cattle herd otherwise. The salient feature of the two wild animals is that they are very quick, has strong horns used for defence and tough skin to survive any attack by predators. This gives an edge to these species to survive rough conditions and gives space for their progeny to multiply exponentially. The void of a potential predator has created dis-balance making a naturally living animal nuisance for human habitat.
Different methods are being adopted by the farmers independently or collectively which includes use of battery operated music players to imitate presence of human (Indian Express, 3rd December), use of chilly-tobacco mixtures treated rope, use of Amrit Pani (as reported by farmers associated with Aga Khan Rural Support Program-India), and use of solar wire fencing. The most popular method among is solar wire fencing which can be done either in groups or individually. In this technique, a 22 watt solar penal is used for generating the power and is stored in a 35 amp battery (enough for 6000 feet wire) attached. The system is further attached to border fencing of 14 gauge galvanized wire connected for power. To cover an area up to 20 bheega (8 acres) 22-watt solar panel is sufficient. The set up along with the wire can cost up to Rs. 4000/acre. The challenge for the adoption of the solar wire fencing are, non-availability of linkage to reliable and quality market players, with the farmers and after service, and high initial cost of the set-up to install. In spite being a major challenge in the agriculture as resonated among the farming community limited steps has been taken to include this in extension services or subsidy regime. A focused intervention of the government along with subsidy to marginal farmers can lead this activity to get popular, before more farmers change their cropping pattern or to start shifting towards animal husbandry, having repercussions on our food security. In the discussions, proposals too came such as confinement of these wild animals to safe places within forest range and suitable arrangements of food and water, and castration of the male to make sure their progeny are hampered. It is unclear how nature will be brought to balance with enough predators to keep these animals within acceptable limits, but seeing the gravity of the issue there is felt need of serious steps to be taken from the policy makers and government.