This week, Parliament deliberated an issue as essential as our survival – food and agriculture. The deliberation raised critical questions, such as how to protect crops and livestock from wild animals. This issue is as old as the mountains, but the answers have eluded us for decades.    

Annually, almost 8,275 metric tonnes of crops with an estimated value of Nu 365 million are destroyed by wild animals. Livestock worth around Nu 12 million are lost to big cats and other wild animals. A total loss of Nu 377 million is substantial for a struggling economy. 

Contrary to how some officials put it, partial compensation paid to farmers who lose crops and livestock to wild animals is not an answer. It is a remedy. The answer must lie in protecting crops and livestock in the first place. 

The government knows that. Therefore, it has spent considerable amounts on deterrents like electric fencing and acoustic equipment. But the answer does not lie in how much money has been spent, the length of electric fencing laid, or the number of acoustic equipment supplied. The answer must lie in how effective they are. If the bulk of electric fencing is falling into disrepair and macaques have discovered that there are no human cousins behind a stream of machine-generated sounds, there is hardly a solution in sight.    

The government has identified chain-link fencing as a more viable solution and has invested substantially. The numbers are impressive but the real impact is yet to be seen. The 13th Plan has set aside Nu 5.1 billion for chain-link fencing. That is Nu 24.8 million a gewog if distributed equally among 205 gewogs. This must come as good news for our farmers who fight a losing battle against marauding wild animals every year. It will keep most animals away, although it is generally ineffective against macaques. 

However, the national budget allocation is one thing. How it is prioritised and used equitably and effectively is another. A guideline the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock has developed is expected to address this concern. Next, the government must already plan how to keep the expensive fencing standing and impenetrable. Otherwise, the story of electric fencing will repeat. 

Besides, chain-link fencing is only part of the solution. While it is identified as a bulwark against most wild animals that come marauding into villages, it does not protect livestock that go foraging into the forests. Protecting livestock from big cats is much trickier than protecting crops because livestock, particularly free-ranging herds, inevitably cross paths with big cats. Our farmers keep losing their livestock even as our conservation regulations tend to favour wild animals over farmers’ livelihoods. 

As concerns and challenges remain, the government has set its sight on a lofty dream – to increase the agriculture sector’s GDP contribution from Nu 27 billion in 2022 to Nu 50 billion in 2029 through the commercialisation of crops and livestock production. This dream should be achievable through the combined size of the 13th Plan and economic stimulus plan budgets. 

As always, between the lofty dream and the big budget come the planners and their foot soldiers. How they coordinate and join forces is as important as the dream and budget.