Solar fence to combat negative human-animal interaction

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Chug, located in the Dirang region of Arunachal Pradesh, is a green and golden valley, with parallel maize and rice fields on both sides and cosmos flowers crowning the entrance to the stone and wooden houses. Inhabited by the Chugpa community, part of the Monpa tribe, the Chug Valley comprises seven villages – Pangsa, Tsangpa, Maleyama, Leoring, Duhum, Samtu and Laphyak. As of 2020, these seven villages had declared 92.5 km² of their community-owned forests as Chug Community Conserved Area (CCA). A community conservation area is an area designated for community nature conservation and the promotion of sustainable livelihoods.

  • Solar fence has been tested as a solution to combat negative human-animal interaction (HANI) in Chug Valley, Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Two years after the installation of solar fences in Pangsa and Tsangpa, two villages in the Chug Valley, residents of both villages face a similar challenge: maintaining the fences.
  • A better understanding of themes such as the distribution of decision-making power in villages, social relations within the community and the level of cohesion between members, can lead to better implementation of conservation solutions.
  • The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author.

World Wildlife Fund-India, popularly known as WWF-India, has been working in Chug CCA since 2018, for the conservation of the red panda and the creation of sustainable livelihoods through agricultural interventions.

Camera trapping exercises showed the vast biodiversity of Chug CCA. Some important species in the area are red pandas, takins, smooth-coated otters, linsang and alpine musk deer. One of the most striking conservation challenges in this landscape, highlighted by the community and WWF-India, is negative human-animal interaction (HANI). Both domestic and wild animals feed on the crops, resulting in a decrease in the extent of cultivated land in Chug CCA.

Chug Valley in Arunachal Pradesh. Photo by Manisha Kumari.

Through a resource mapping exercise with communities in the seven villages under Chug CCA, WWF-India identified four villages with severe HANI – Samtu, Laphyak, Pangsa and Tsangpa. After community discussions, Tsangpa and Pangsa were selected as the two villages to test solutions to mitigate HANI. They both collectively comprise 39 heads of household (HH) according to the 2011 census.

Negative human-animal interaction in Tsangpa and Pangsa

Among the crops grown by the people of Tsangpa and Pangsa, corn and rice cover more than two-thirds of the agricultural land in Chug CCA. Animals such as domestic cows, black bears, barking deer, goats, horses, macaques, porcupines and wild pigs pose a challenge to farmers and their crops. Crops affected by HANI are corn, rice, potato, soybean, eggplant, lai patta (famous leafy vegetable in northeast India), broad beans, cabbage, cucumber, pumpkin and onion. Most of the damage is caused by domestic animals than by wild animals.

Agricultural fields in the Chug Valley. Animals that threatened crops were: monkeys, cows, wild pigs, goats, horses, porcupines, barking deer and black bears. Photo by Manisha Kumari.

Based on monetary losses, the animals that posed a threat to crops (in order) were: monkeys (with the highest loss), followed by cows, wild pigs, goats, horses, porcupines, barking deer and black bear (with the lowest monetary loss). According to a household survey conducted in 2018 by WWF-India, the average annual HANI loss per household is around Rs. 4,000. There is no compensation system yet for losses caused by HANI in Chug CCA.

The solar fence as a solution to combat the negative interaction between man and animal

Learn from the effectiveness of solar fences to control crop depredation by wildlife in Zemithang, WWF-India recommended solar fences as a solution to communities living in Chug CCA, to combat the negative human-wildlife interaction. The non-lethal solar fence acts as a deterrent and covers farm boundaries, mainly forest edge sections and animal entry areas. The construction of solar fences is promoted in partnership with communities, where WWF-India and the communities contribute both in cash and in kind. After the construction of the fence, its maintenance is entirely the responsibility of the community. An exercise conducted for communities shows more effectiveness in this project if done in partnership with them and has the potential to materialize into their existing resource management systems for long-term sustainability.

Installation of solar-powered fences in the Chug Valley. WWF-India has recommended solar fences as a solution to communities living in Chug CCA, to combat the negative human-animal interaction. Photo by Pema Wange.

Throughout the process of installing the fence, the communities were regularly consulted. First, a resource mapping exercise was conducted to identify areas with the highest levels of HANI in the two villages. These sections were found to be closest to the forest. Second, a household survey covering 30% of the village was conducted to identify the animals threatening crops and the intensity of damage. After the survey, the construction of the solar fence was finalized with the manga (a traditional governing body headed by the village chief – gaon burah). The identification process was followed by the list of farmers whose lands are within the boundaries of the solar fence. The third stage was the collection of the wooden poles and the acquisition of the machinery for the solar fence. The purchase of machinery for the solar fences was done by WWF-India. All farmers whose land was under the solar fence area were asked to collect wooden poles five to six feet in length. After the wooden poles were recovered, WWF-India sent an engineer on the ground to help the locals with the installation. During the installation period, everyone was invited to participate in the erection of the fence.

Social and external influences in the implementation of the solution

In the installation process, there was great participation from Pangsa, with all the farmers coming forward to contribute through shramdan (volunteer work). This was not the case in Tsangpa. The first two days saw a very low level of participation from the community. However, more farmers eventually came forward to participate in the installation process. This is due to an apprehension towards the solar fences of Tsangpa farmers.

In both villages, the manga played a key role in mobilizing the community. The difference in leadership in the two villages and the differences in social cohesion had an impact on the execution of the fence. While WWF-India has helped address community doubts by creating a problem-solving platform, these efforts could be done more in Pangsa than in Tsangpa. This was due to the difference in decision-making power and influence of the traditional ruling body in their respective villages.

Two years after the installation of solar fences in Pangsa and Tsangpa (villages in the Chug Valley), to deal with negative human-animal interaction, residents face a similar challenge: maintenance. In both villages, farmers whose farms were not on the periphery of the forest refused to contribute to the maintenance of the fence. While the manga in Pangsa brought together other farmers to maintain the fence, the manga in Tsangpa had difficulty doing so.

The need to understand social dynamics in village administrative structures

Different solutions were suggested to Tsangpa to solve the problem of maintenance of the fence – such as hiring a security guard from the community on a monthly basis or a fixed monthly or one-time monetary contribution for the maintenance of the fence. fencing.

To promote the use of solar fences also in winter, seeds of winter crops were also provided. It is important to note that the implementation of the solution i.e. the fence was not the destination but rather a path for more work. Any intervention to be adopted by the community requires continued commitment and additional support until the system is effective enough to work on its own.

Vegetables grown in the farmland supported by the solar fences are sold in nearby market areas. Photo by Pema Wange.

It has been over two years since the installation of the two fences. The solar fence in both villages is currently functioning, the villagers are growing summer and winter crops inside the fence and have also earned income from the sale of surplus from their farms. In addition to practicing winter crops, the villagers have noticed a marked reduction in crop depredation. Villagers also come up with their own ways to fix the fence design, such as closing the gap between two strands of the fence and bringing it closer to the ground to make it more effective against wild pigs.

Besides continuous engagement, it is also essential to understand and assess the social dynamics in the villages, such as the distribution of decision-making power, social relations within the community, the level of cohesion among members, etc. A better understanding of these themes can lead to better implementation of conservation solutions.

This article is written by Manisha Kumari and republished from mongabay

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