Forty-year-old Malan Raut from the western Indian state of Maharashtra was a contented man farmer when she switched to organic farming in 2016 to cope with the impact of climate change. She grows grains, pulses and vegetables on 3.5 acres of land in her home village of Nagarsoga. But, three years later, she encountered an unexpected problem: she was losing her crops to attacks by wild animals.
“Herds of wild boar and deer would burst into my land at night from a nearby patch of wilderness and trees – gnawing, trampling and destroying my crops,” Malan told Global Voices in a phone interview. According to her, this resulted in annual losses gradually increasing to around INR 30,000-40,000 (USD 376-500) and becoming difficult for her family to bear.
In 2020, a local non-profit organization called Swayam Shikshyam Prayog in Latur had him install a device called Parabraksh (which in Kannada, the language of the southern state of Karnataka, means protection from wild animals).
Parabraksh uses solar-powered technology to generate flashes of light to scare animals away from agricultural fields, without harming them. It comes with a 6 watt solar panel mounted on a lithium-ion battery and 4 LED lights that flash all night long, creating random patterns on the ground. The lights are visible from a distance of 300 to 500 meters (depending on the landscape) to deter the animal from entering the targeted area.
Malan installed it at the vulnerable entry point to his farmland. Today, she is very relieved. “Animals don’t come to my field anymore, it’s almost 97-98% effective,” she said.
The device costs INR 10,000 ($125) and is manufactured by the Katidhan Scientific Research and Innovation Organization, based in Bengaluru, Karnataka. According to SR Ayan, who heads the organization, the programmed blinking patterns emitted by the device attack the cognitive vision of animals such as wild boars, nilgai, bison, elephants, tigers and leopards, thus preventing them from enter targeted areas.
“Forests, or the natural habitat of wildlife, are being fragmented, destroyed and disturbed due to the expansion of human habitation and development activities,” Sanjeev Kumar, Additional Chief Conservator of Forests, Jharkhand told Global Voices by email. He said this is what forces animals to enter villages (especially those bordering forests) in search of food and water, which invariably leads to raids on crops, slaughter of livestock, etc., causing human-wildlife conflict.
Although nationally collected data on crop losses is not available, the severity of the incident can be gauged from some government figures – according to which the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh of India, alone suffered crop loss on 5,543 acres of land in 7,589 incidents between 2017 and 2020. Tamil Nadu also reported a total of 7,562 incidents of crop raiding by wild animals during of the same period.
According to Ayan, this animal deterrent solar light has so far reached more than 1,000 farmers in 100 villages in 12 states, in addition to some coffee growers, banana plantation owners, 3 or 4 state forest departments and various organizations. wildlife and development.
It was first deployed in 2019, to prevent snow leopards from killing livestock in the remote village of Kesar in eastern Ladakh. The villagers here are mostly herders who herd sheep and mountain goats on the sloping pastures of the Himalayas.
According to Jigmet Dadul of the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust, who coordinated the settlement process on behalf of the villagers, they collectively kept around 150 to 200 head of cattle in community pens for grazing in the summer pastures. These corrals had no roofs or doors and the predator easily entered them at night, attacking one, but killing or injuring nearly 50% of the others in the attack, and leaving them in the corral itself. same. This caused a loss of around INR 200,000 (USD 2,509).
Ten Parabraksh units have been set up outside community compounds in seven villages. The Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust has also helped villagers build roofs and gates over the enclosures to protect their livestock from further attack.
Vikram Munda from Bandhuabeda village in eastern Indian state of Odisha, who grows cashew nuts, paddy and local seasonal vegetables, lamented annual losses worth around INR 60,000 (USD 753) caused by herds of wild elephants. Parabraksh, however, came to his rescue, in 2020.
“Before, we had to stay up all night before harvest season, popping crackers, waving lit torches to ward off elephants who came in groups of at least 6 to 7 at a time, from nearby forests,” said he declared.
According to Debashish Sharma, Divisional Forest Officer, Purulia, West Bengal, elephants are range animals that move through forests. These villages were once part of their traditional migration routes through contiguous forests connecting Odisha with its neighboring states. But today they are reduced to broken and isolated patches, interspersed with these villages – where wild elephants eventually stray.
“Furthermore, with the depletion of food in the forest, these wild elephants are changing their food preferences – from the earlier cellulose-based forest diet, they now opt for the starchy crops that are readily available and more nutritious in the fields,” Sharma said. And, being the largest herbivores, with maximum food consumption, the damage they cause is much more widespread than other crop pest animals, he added.
In Therubeedi village of Karnataka, organic farmer Raghavendra Bhat is troubled by monkeys. “They come by the hundreds screaming and shouting, jumping through the trees and looting my crops, in addition to lifting my hens and chickens,” Bhat lamented. He suffered annual losses of up to INR 150,000 (USD 1,882) every year, on his 15-acre farm.
However, last year he set up Kapikaat, a solar-powered acoustic device developed by Katidhan to repel its unruly visitors. The device, attached to trees 10 to 12 feet high, emits various sounds such as growls and roars of predators, gunshots or firecrackers to scare them away. However, according to Bhat, it is 60-70% effective, as monkeys have started entering the field from other sides.
For Ayan, it is indeed a challenge to surpass the intelligence of wild animals and keep them at bay. Katidhan, meanwhile, is also trying to find solutions so that farmers can use the same device to keep multiple species of wildlife away from their fields. “We customize height adjustment options, when installing the device, so that its deterrent flashes can precisely hit the eyes of targeted animals,” he said.
The organization aims to reach 2,000 more farmers in 150 more villages this year, in addition to at least 15-20 plantation owners, including coffee, rubber, tea and coconut, as well as other state forest departments.
Interviews for this story were conducted by phone, email and in person during research in September 2022