This time of the year has come again! Farmers, especially in the south of the country are losing crops to wild animals.
Human-wildlife conflicts have been increasing for obvious reasons. Sometimes, it is seen as wild animals are more important than the livelihoods of the hard-pressed Bhutanese farmers. But, seen in the right perspective, that’s not necessarily true.
Both are very important for Bhutan—the livelihoods of the farmers and the conservation of the environment and the country’s rich biodiversity. The problem is that we are not able to strike the right balance, somewhere somehow.
Animals must live and our forest cover grow; at the same time, our farmers must grow and prosper to propel our economy to the next level. The Covid-19 gave us some true picture of the reality. However, the many laws, rules, and regulations today make no sense to the farmers, let alone to the foraging animals from the deep wild.
Compensation for crop damage has never worked; there is too much bureaucracy in between to set the ground running. Electric fencing is also a failure in its own right. But the farmers must feed themselves. Confrontations with the wild have even claimed many human lives.
Bhutan’s strength is agriculture. But there has not been significant development in the sector, at least not in the way to benefit more than half the country’s population who depend on it. And we continue to harp about the importance of agriculture for economic development, self-reliance, jobs creation and some such grand-sounding national dreams. We can be a lot less hypocritical, why not.
There are simple things we can do. We depend too much on foreign aid for our country’s development activities. That’s fine, but we also need to call our own shot, which is by far more important. It is long past time we said that the one who pays the piper does not always call the tune.
In this sense, Bhutan has now come of age. Agriculture has been, at least on paper, the central focus of development since the first day of the first planned development in the early 1960s. We also know that the sector has been appropriated the least budget since then. This must change.
Crop loss compensation will never work and the farmers’ challenges will never end with our strict conservation laws. Meaningless rules and regulations add to the burdens facing the farmers, which can be seen in the form of increasing rural to urban migration and rising urban poverty.
When we talk about increasing city crimes, we often conveniently forget joblessness in the cities and growing towns. The animals are coming, in droves, to teach us a vital lesson. We would do well to read the runes.