Tonnes of crops lost to wildlife

Electric fencing has been the only effective measure to protect crops from wildlife

HWC: Bhutan loses a truckload of crops to wildlife everyday.

In the past two years, the country lost more than 754 truckloads of crops to wildlife, latest agriculture ministry records show. This means, each month, wildlife ravaged at least 31 truckloads of crops over the last 24 months.

Of that, more than 172 truckloads were paddy, 107 were potato and 20 were vegetables, among others considering a truck carries 10 metric tonnes (MT).

Department of Agriculture’s records from July 2013 to June 2015 show wild animals ravaged 8,058 acres of fields across the country causing a crop loss of 7,542MT, of which 1,725MT was paddy.

Agriculture officials said electric fencing has been the only effective measure to protect the crops.

A National Plant Protection Centre (NPPC) official said the electric fencing has been effective to keep away mainly wild boars, deer, and other small wild animals.

Applications for the equipment have come from Trashigang, Trongsa, Sarpang, Samtse, and Trashiyangtse.

NPPC’s senior plant protection officer Sangay Dorji said, “This year alone we have tendered out procurement of more than 600 energisers worth Nu 4.5 million.”

“There could be more requests with the dzongkhag agriculture officials,” he said.

The energisers would be distributed based on costs sharing basis at nominal rates.

Agriculture department’s director general Nim Dorji recently proposed the government to mainstream electric fencing system into the local development plan as a priority activity.

Since its legalisation in 2013, almost all gewogs have installed electric fencing, officials said. Officials said a total of 362km of electric fencing have been installed since then which protected 6,472 acres of agriculture land benefiting 3,015 households.

A kilometre of electric fencing costs a minimum of Nu 35,000 with Nu 35 to Nu 50 as annual electricity bill.  An energiser, the main component that reduces power voltage to a safe limit with a fluctuating charge every 2.5 or 1.5 seconds, has to be used. The energiser that costs about Nu 7,000 can supply current on four strands of wire up to a kilometre.  Except for the energiser, the rest of the technology is home made.

An official said the intention is to create a psychological barrier and not to kill wild animals.

The forest and park services department has installed 154.04 km of electric fencing at a cost of Nu 17.913M as new activity with funds mobilised though the International Development Agency and the World Bank.

Average landholding of the farmers in the country is 3.4 acres as of 2013. Only about eight percent of the country’s total land is fit for cultivation.

Thus, agriculture officials said it was imperative to establish effective measures for human wildlife conflict. The agriculture ministry would establish 1,000km of electric fencing within this year.

According to RNR statistics 2015, average production of paddy maize were over 76,621MT and 74,370MT annually with an average yield of 1,524kg and 1,224kg an acre respectively. The annual average potato production was 46,695MT with an average yield of 3,595kg an acre.

Sangay Dorji said this fiscal year the NPPC would study how effective the electric fencing system has been since its establishment.

“It’s important to learn how effective it is and also its problems to improve them,” he said.

The challenges with some of the fence, he said, have been their maintenance.

“A certain clearance is needed outside the fence but in some cases the bushes touch the fence and the circuit is broken letting in animals,” he said.

Human wildlife conflict endowment fund with the forestry department has reached a total collection of Nu 5.5M, and Nu 2.5M was released to form 5 GECC groups. Another 17 GECC groups are in progress with funding from projects outside the endowment fund.

Another record with the Policy and Planning Division of the ministry shows a total of 419km of electric fencing established between 2011 and June 2015 by the agriculture and forest departments benefiting 5,869 households.

Meanwhile, the department has formed a technical committee to study and report on food self suffice and food security status.  The study assesses the self-sufficiency scenario based on the calorie requirement and the contribution from domestic production of each commodity.

Tshering Palden

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