Rural communities in Bhutan adopt local innovation to protect crops from wild animals

Aum Sangchum, 49, of Zamdey Chiwog under Rubesa Gewog in Wangduephodrang district sighs with relief that she will not have to spend sleepless nights in her makeshift hut, warding-off wild animals from her farmland. She is eagerly waiting for a bountiful harvest this year from her 3-acre land. Aum Sangchum is one of 40 villagers who recently participated in a training to locally design low costs electric fences in Zamdey with technical and financial support from Research and Development Center (RDC), Yusipang of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, local governments and the UNDP-UN Environment Poverty-Environment Initiative. 

Zamdey Chiwog comprises of 30 households spread over three hamlets of Zamdey, Omtokha and Telekha, and sparsely  populated with approximately 150 people. The people here are subsistence farmers depending on the cultivation of upland rice, potato, maize, paddy and a variety of vegetables. Villagers have access to electricity,  rural water supply, and mobile network and are connected with the gewog (sub-district) center and other   chiwogs via a rudimentary farm road, often not pliable or navigable during the monsoons. Zamdey is the furthest Chiwog under Rubesa gewog and settled in  the midst of a lush green forest, home to many different wildlife species. However this has led to the farmers facing a serious problem with animals like wild pigs, Sambar  deer and  monkeys attacking their agricultural crops throughout the year. Monkeys in particular pose a major  threat. “We  could hardly reap half of what is sown in our fields every year”, recalls Aum Sangchum. This is primarily termed as Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC). Due to the severity of this menace, few  households have even  abandoned  cultivating their fields and the lands have been left fallow. 

HWC has been identified as a major policy issue in Bhutan affecting more than 69% of our population. The issue  has been  debated in the Bhutanese Parliament and local governments’ forum as one of the contributing factors  leading to  agriculture lands being left fallow, declining productivity, and rural-urban migration. This has a lot of  implication on the  livelihoods of the rural communities given the limited arable land (of 3% under cultivation) and  small landholdings of our  farmers. Till date no concrete solutions have been found. Addressing this issue has  become a priority for the government  in the 11th FYP (2018-2013) to achieve its overall objective of “Self- reliance and inclusive green socio-economic  development”.

Through this local initiative, in three villages, community members have been trained on the installation of electric fences, preparation of insulators from PVC pipes, maintenance and operation of the fences, and safety measures. Recently, the community successfully installed 9 kilometers of electric fence and managed to cover their entire landholdings. This local innovation is engineered by Mr. Tshewang Norbu, a researcher with the RDC, Yusipang. “I am very happy with the initial results and feedback from the community seeing their fields with potatoes and maize still intact,” Tshewang nods with happiness. Two farmers’ groups have been formed to sustainably manage the maintenance and operation of the fences, and a by-law developed to manage the group. Farmers have created a group fund through the membership fees to meet the maintenance expenses. The electric fence was formally handed over to the three communities on 19th June in the presence of the officials from RDC-Yusipang, Wangduephodrang Dzongkhag, RDC-Bajo, Watershed Management Division, and Local Government. Officials from the Dzongkhag and RDC-Bajo have committed to support the community with agricultural inputs to enhance crop diversity and production.

Like Aum Sangchum, the villages of Zamdey reverberate with happiness as they hope for good harvest and better income in the days ahead. 

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