Bumthang farmers find electric fencing as most effective in saving potatoes

A farmer, Sonam, in Zungye village under Chummey, Bumthang, planted potatoes twice last year. It was not due to market demands or because it was a high yielding variety seed. It was due to the wild boars damaging almost all her potato crops.

She is among the few farmers in the village who is not deterred by the wild animals.  “Some have given up cultivation and left their land fallow,” Sonam  said. Today, she has removed the old wooden fence and replaced it with a stronger one.

Zungye has 128 households spread over five hamlets of Nangye, Yamthrak, Zungye, Trakkar and Nangar and is sparsely populated with about 150 people.

The people are subsistence farmers depending on potato, buckwheat and a variety of vegetables. Villagers have access to electricity, rural water supply, and mobile network and are connected with the gewog center and other chiwogs via a farm road, often not passable during the monsoon season.

Zungye is the furthest chiwog in Chummey gewog, near a lush green forest that is home to many different wildlife species. However, their closeness to the wild is giving them nightmares. “I can hardly reap half of what is cultivated in my fields every year,” said Phurpa, a farmer who has finally bought electric fencing materials to be set up against the wild boar infestation. Including Phurba, about 30 farmers have bought the new technology.

But it is farmers, like Sangay, who are paying the price. “Every year, crops are lost to wildlife despite sleepless nights of guarding the fields,” she said. A villager, Tshewang, returning with a dozen of torch batteries said he has to stand guard and shout aloud to deter any encroaching wildlife threat to his crops. “I do that five times every hour,” said Tshewang, who has made a hut near his field. “I don’t have an electric fence to defend me from wildlife, so I need a torch while I move around,” he said.

Chhumig Mangmi, Chundu Tshering, said most of the chiwogs don’t have electric fencing except for one patch of land, which received one on trial basis sometime back.“Despite the efficacy of an electric fence in combating human-wildlife conflict, the villagers cannot afford it,” he said. “Loss of crops to wildlife is still a major problem here.”

Around 8.5 km (58 acres) of electric fencing has been constructed in Chhumig gewog but this covers only nine of the 334 households. The farm lands of over 312 households are not protected by electric fences.

According to the report about 114.5 acres of crops were destroyed by wildlife. Agriculture extension officer of Chhumig gewog, Tshewang Lhamo, said the crops are equally damaged in every village but since Zungye and Gyatsa has higher population than rest of the chiwogs, the villages in these two chiwogs were affected the most last year.

“The only solution to protect the agricultural crops is solar and electric fencing at the moment,” she said. She added that the forest officials are carrying out awareness campaigns in the gewogs.

Some farmers are worried that if all cannot afford electric fencing, wildlife attack on crops will be worse for those who cannot afford. The dzongkhag is planning to incorporate electric fencing in the12th Plan to reduce human-wildlife conflict and reclaim the fallow lands.

Dzongkhag agriculture officer, Gaylong, said that electric fences were given only for groups, communities in far-flung farmlands and for households with acute labour shortage for coverage of the larger area in the chiwogs.

“We have tried out few controls methods to reduce wild animal damage, such as sensor sound and light when the pigs or any other animals enter the fields, but this also did not work,” he said. He added that from 2014 until now, electric and solar fencing proved to be successful and many farmers wanted to get the electric fencing.

As per the report of electric fencing which has been supplied to the four gewogs, last year, Choekhor gewog received 15.96 kilometers (km) of fencing to cover 146 acres of land that benefitted 147 households.

Likewise, Tang gewog has been provided with 6.6km of electric fencing and it has benefited 29 households with 52 acres of land; another 21.2 km of fences went up in Ura that benefitted 233 households with 328 acres, and Chumig gewog with 8.5 km which benefited 9 households holding 58 acres of land in total.

Meanwhile, the farmers that have already installed the electric and solar electric fencing are hoping for a good harvest yield this year. Sonam said she could never harvest a full crop in the past years as wild boars and deer damaged them. “My potatoes are safe now,” she said.

About Kinley Yonten

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