By Athar Parvaiz
With human wildlife conflict (HWC) continuing unabated in many areas near forests in Darjeeling and Sikkim in north-east India, farmers often find themselves at the mercy of wild animals in these areas. Bangalore based environmental organization, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE) says that it has initiated setting up physical barriers to separate the conflict species and resources, but it emphasizes that a multipronged strategy needs to be adopted for dealing with this problem.
According to the Regional Director of ATREE for north-east India, Sarala Khaling, villages located near forests in the Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalayas are most vulnerable to crop depredation by wildlife.
Khaling said that wild boar, Rhesus macaque, Assamese macaque, Barking deer, Indian Crested porcupine, Indian hare and Asiatic Black Bear are some of the key species that are responsible for crop depredation in the region.
Farmers in these areas mostly depend on agricultural produce for their livelihoods, but many farmers now find it more sensible to move out of their villages and work as labourers in major cities such as Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi to ensure that their families don’t suffer because of the frequent crop losses.
“Jo Kheti Ka income hai, woh Ram ke burusa par hai, lakin jo mazdoori ka income hai woh toa paka hai (the income from our farms is conditional on God’s mercy while the income from labour is assured income),” this is how Raju Ghalay, a farmer in Khasmal-Senchal village of Darjeeling, described the farmers’ concerns about frequent wild animal raids on their crops.
He said that many of the young people in Khasmal village now prefer working as laborers in different cities across the country rather than focusing on their farming. “They believe that whatever they earn as labourers, is something they can rely on,” Ghalay said.
According to Ghalay some 90 people, mostly youth, of his village out of the total population of 500 are now working as labourers in different cities and towns. “They have seen over the past several years how their parents have suffered. So, they find it sensible to work as labourers rather than relying on their farms only,” Ghalay said.
The only way farmers know of to deal with the wild animals is erecting scarecrows and beating tin-boxes during nights. “But, it works only for the nearby fields, not for the ones away from our houses,” said Robin Roy, a farmer.
“We often find our far-off vegetable fields vandalized by the wild animals. Our worst enemy is the wild boar who digs the soil [for taking out potatoes etc.] even more efficiently than a tractor,” Roy said.
To protect the beehives, farmers in Rampuria, Lalung and many other villages of Darjeeling have created thin wire-grids around the beehives and have connected them with live-wires.
Massive Crop Depredation
Explaining the extent of damage being caused by wild animals in Darjeeling and Sikkim, Sarala Khaling quoted figures from a year-long study conducted by ATREE in many villages of Darjeeling. As per the study, crop depredation is one of the biggest issues facing the livelihood security of farmers with most of the farmers losing upto 40 per cent of their crops annually. A household, Khaling said, on average reported losses of 955 rupees every month because of wild animal raids.
“The losses are particularly compounded by the fact that landownership of farmers in Darjeeling and Sikkim is small and other livelihood opportunities are few,” she said.
“Agriculture in the mountains involves high inputs in terms of labour due to non-mechanisation of agriculture, small land sizes and absence of agriculture extension services. For a mountain farmer, the inputs that go into agriculture far outweigh the outputs they get in terms of yield and income,” she observed.
“Therefore the stress is high due to crop depredations. In many instances this has led to migration by entire families due to persistent and severe crop depredation to nearby towns or cities in search of better employment opportunities and better wages.”
In order to mitigate the crop depredation, Khaling said that ATREE has initiated setting up physical barriers to separate the conflict species and resources. “In one of the villages old barbwire-fences have been re-erected and strengthened and natural fencing has been set up by planting shrubs like Asare, Chutro Kesari and Ghurpis,” she said adding that the work was undertaken entirely by the community members with partial support from ATREE.
“The natural fencing however takes at least three years to become fully effective as the plants/shrubs planted will require time to grow. For the survival of the saplings regular monitoring is essential.”
She said that a multipronged strategy needs to be adopted for dealing with this problem. “While compensation, insurances, physical barriers and vigilance can be adopted as short-term measures, for the long-term measures, I think the government needs to think out of the box and look for innovative strategies to really solve the problems,” she said.
Darjeeling’s DFO, Ram Prasad said that the forest department has also started taking interest in finding a solution to this problem. “As of now, there is no documentation. We don’t have all the details so that the experts could give us exact solutions. So, we have now started camera-traps so that we have the camera recorded data with us which can help us in devising a solution,” Prasad said.
“We are also starting awareness campaigns wherein we would make the famers aware about various techniques to be followed for safeguarding their farms. We would also give them certain tips for examining the animal behavior which can help in devising solutions.”