Agriculture minister encouraging farmers to kill wild boars is a picture of a desperate situation of human-wildlife conflict in the remote villages. However, this measure should not be seen and adopted as a long-term solution.
More than 60 percent of our people are in the agriculture sector, depending directly or indirectly on livestock and crop production for their livelihood. And, we also have some of the most stringent conservation laws on earth. What we must understand is that most of Bhutan’s vulnerable farming communities reside close to protected areas.
This reality has not been very advantageous to the farmers. Probably this is the reason why more and more Bhutanese are leaving their farmlands and moving to the city centres. Finding balance between economic development and conservation is, therefore, of critical importance.
While as a conservationist society we must consider protection and growth of wide-ranging habits of plants and animals, we cannot forget that loss of crops and livestock in the rural pockets of the country can have a devastating impact on the farming households.
Retaliatory killing of wildlife, as seen as option by agriculture minister, is at the best, a short-term measure. Long-term conservation and maintenance of national biodiversity and growth of the sector that supports more than half the population requires more.
Cash compensation has not worked with farmers for obvious reasons. Equity is the issue. Culling of one group of crop predators, on the other hand, can cause serious imbalance in the ecosystem. We have our own example from the past to refer to. Killing wild dogs led to the proliferation of wild boar population. Nemesis has returned.
The simple lesson is: food chain disturbance can have far-reaching impact on the agriculture. That’s why there is today the need to look at long-term, all-inclusive and sustainable agricultural practices, rather than going straight to killing crop predators.
We need a management approach that involves making people, wildlife, livestock and habitat, safe. What about mitigation measures that have proved successful, such as sound and light repellent and electric fencing? How about encouraging farmers to take up crop rotation, for instance?
Culling is a short-term measure. We need to look beyond because agriculture is Bhutan’s mainstay. Agriculture minister’s approach has great potential to disbalance a lot of other elements in the society. Unemployment fuelled by rural to urban migration is already a serious problem.