The use of innovative electric fence in eastern dzongkhags to shield crops from wild animals has shown constructive outcomes in the research sites.
The Impact assessments conducted last year by the Research Development Centre (RDC) in Wengkhar showed that the use of electric fence in the sites reduced human wildlife conflict from as high as 100% before fencing to as low as 10% after fencing.
Consequently this positive outcome has helped increase food sufficiency by 30 to 40% and apart from the reduction in crop damages, farmers in the trial sites also reported increased cultivation of crops, crop diversity, reduction in fallow land, reduced crop guarding time and also reduced crop guarding related disputes in the community.
In addition, the use of community-based approaches have inculcated a sense of ownership of the technology and also enabled cost reduction through cost sharing among the community members.
Reports from few sites reveal that the community mobilization of common village chores, usually a difficult task, was otherwise easier when it came to electric fencing and crop protection.
With the increasing need to enlarge an efficient technology, RNR RDC Wengkhar with support from the government and various agencies and donors started developing locally fabricated electric fences with available materials to cut down the cost and test its effectiveness to reduce crop damage by wild animals.
The researchers employed the available materials and fabricated a simple energizer operating on the concepts of capacitive Discharge Ignition (CDI) at the plant protection laboratory of RNR RDC Wengkhar.
Energizers were tested in the laboratory, reworked to modify faults and placed in the farm sites and studied for its effectiveness and cost after which the energizers were situated on farm trials. About 20 energizers were developed and taken to larger on-farm trials in six sites in the east, covering a total fence of 36 km covering more than 345 acres benefiting107 farming households.
To begin with three strands of wires were used where first strand at 0.14-0.15 m from ground for smaller animals and the second and third strand at 0.45 and 0.8 m above ground for wild boars, monkeys and other bigger mammals.
The traditional method of guarding the crops was not so effective and hence the communities have responded to wildlife encroachment in both lethal and non-lethal ways. The fatal impacts of some of these methods have also become a concern when the rural communities are resorting to illegal tapping of electricity and fencing without using any safe devices and authorized connections.
In a bid to address this issue, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) developed strategies composed of various measures such as crop compensations, crop insurance, protective fencings and indigenous knowledge.
However the second design which is not entirely different from the first, is a dual fence, both electrified by three strands as in the first design and an additional non-electrified strand placed at an approximate height of six to seven meters above and stretched over an angular pole at 45 degrees.
This design was developed based on the elephant behavior observed by the farmers. They observed that invading elephants avoid hanging wires at par with their head height. This, according to the farmers, is due to the experience of electric shocks across the borders in India.
Other combinations such as sound repellent systems based on motion detection promoted by NPHC can also be installed with the electric fence, especially in large areas and those which have several entry and exit points for the community. This is done mainly to give additional security and warning to alert the community.
Both electric currents from home (hydro-powered) and solar power as source of electric current were used either in combination or isolation. The use of fabricated energizers and fence materials purchased from local market costs about Nu 6,000 to Nu 8,000, which compared to commercial electric fences are significantly cheaper while being equally effective and safe.
Considering the safety of the energizers and verification to standards set by regulatory authorities and also due to the lack of capacity to fabricate large quantity of energizers, the imported energizers were used with fabricated fence materials.
The fabricated electric fence system are akin to commercially produced electric fence system and produces pulse rated high voltage of 10 to 12KV with a minimum electrical energy 2.5 to 3 Joules on the fence wires, which gives a repulsive shock sensation without electrocuting the animals or human when they come in contact with the fence. The repeated shocks stop most of the animals from comeing near the fence. However the children are cautioned from touching the fences which are set up by the authorized people established with appropriate equipment and accessories.
While the use of the technology is found to be effective for most wild animals, according to the officials, appropriate designs have to be made for specific types of animals such as elephants and monkeys. The integration of other methods such as sound and light repellent and trenching could improve the efficiency of electric fence systems.
Additional research on fence designs based on animal behavior and collision on the animals would be carried out in order to ensure safety and effective use of the technology. The consumers would be also skilled on proper use of fence and implications from inappropriate use.
While many farmers are showing interest on adopting the technology the officials feel the need to develop a standard protocol and safety guidelines which have to be put in place.
The Market Access and Growth Intensification Program with funds from International Fund for Agriculture Development is supporting the promotion of the technology in the project sites in eastern region. This is jointly implemented by the RDC, Dzongkhag Agriculture sector and farmers.