by Sugeeswara Senadhira
Sri Lanka, once known as the ‘Granary of the East’, is today a country that needs substantial stocks of food imports as the indigenous production is rapidly declining. Realizing the need to revitalize food production, President Maithripala Sirisena launched ‘Wagaa Sangraamaya’ an agriculture production campaign.
While taking every possible action to increase local food production, it is also essential to save crop from the threats of not only drought and floods but also from the animals.
President Sirisena disclosed at the launching of the National Food Production Week in Kekirawa that the farmers complain that nearly one third of their crop is eaten or destroyed by animals – from monkeys and cattle to elephants and wild boar.
A recent animal census conducted in the Kegalle district revealed that the monkey population in the district is over 68,000. If there are so many monkeys in a relatively urban district like Kegalle, one can imagine the monkey population in large districts with jungles, such as, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Monaragala, Badulla and Ampara. On a rough estimate, monkeys in the country could be over a million. Hence, the food production required for Sri Lanka should be sufficient to feed two million humans, one million monkeys and various other animals such as elephants, cattle, goat and wild boar.
Farmers in many districts are facing a serious threat from wild animals. Standing crops on many acres, especially, in farms in remote areas, are being destroyed by animals in search of food. Invasion by elephants and wild boar is most common. District authorities are not issuing or renewing firearm licences, according to farmers.
Almost every day we hear stories of elephant rampages. Human beings are also under threat as we do not know when the ‘animal instincts’ would come out. Paddy fields, maize, coconut and tapioca fields are the most sought-after crops by the elephants and monkeys. The depletion of forest resources had been forcing animals to look for food in farmlands. They not only eat, but also destroy large amounts of unripe fruits. Monkeys, wild boar and elephants inflict damage to any crop. Elephants can destroy crops in vast areas in no time.
Monkeys are the biggest menace. Not only farmers but householders in urban areas, including Colombo 7 bungalow owners complain that huge quantities of tender fruits and crop are dropped by monkeys in their flight from one tree to another.
When a herd of elephants enter a plantation or a paddy field, a large number of paddy, trees, coconut palms, bananas, etc are destroyed. The farmers had urged the authorities to find a permanent solution to the issue. Despite ad hoc measures taken following a street demonstration held after a fatal elephant attack, no permanent solution is in sight.
These wild animals, mainly in peripheral areas of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, increasingly pose a risk to farmers around those regions. Farmers are inflicted with crop losses and other damages when herds of such animals occasionally stray from their habitats and enter farmlands, destroying the fields and plantations. Growers of cereals like paddy and maize, horticulture crops such as banana and vegetables, and cash crops like sugarcane, apart from plantation crops are among the worst affected by the straying wild animals.
Most of the farmer insurance schemes do not cover crops destroyed by animals. At present, the local administration and the local government institutions occasionally extend some relief to farmers whenever they are impacted by such losses. While there are no official estimates on losses inflicted by the wild animals, activists peg the losses at about a third of the output. About 30 to 35 per cent of the output gets impacted by wild animals, monkeys and birds in many districts.
All these data bring home the fact that crop damages inflicted by wild animals is one of the biggest challenges faced in the drive for food self sufficiency.
Studies on challenges faced by farmers indicate that most people whose farming activities are impacted by the presence and abundance of wild animal species are the resource poor local farmers. Various studies have shown that previous research has concentrated on understanding only the socio-economic dynamics of human-wildlife interaction with very limited understanding of the basic issue. Hence, there is a need to map the extent and severity of this issue and come up with an efficient and effective way to reduce the damage caused.
The crop damage by wildlife seriously affects the livelihoods of the farmers. Furthermore, it is one of the biggest challenges to the national food production drive. One of the hidden dangers is that the human-animal conflict can lead to an increased negative human attitude towards wildlife with potentially negative effects for conservation of wildlife.
A study in the Maharashtra State of India revealed that on an average 20% of the crop was damaged by wild animals. Forty-seven species of crops were vulnerable to animal damage. Highly nutritious crops like wheat, banana, paddy, maize and sugarcane were more vulnerable.
These results could be equally valid for many farming districts in Sri Lanka too.
Some of the preventive measures suggested erection of barriers such as fencing, tree guards or tree shelters, use of chemical repellents, control of animal numbers by shooting, trapping, poisoning or biological control and last but not least, by habitat management.