By Vrinda Nagar
What could be better than a fence that grows on its own, requires farmers to pay little money for it and protects their crops from elephants too!
In Sessa Tea Estate owned by Apeejay Tea in, Assam, WWF-India is trying to grow just such a fence – by going on a bamboo planting spree.
Bambusa bambos (the species of bamboo used) is a thorny, thick and sturdy plant that, when grown along the boundary of cultivated land, can act as a tough, living-fence against raiding wild elephants. This is the reason it can prove to be a life-saver for both humans and elephants.
“In tea gardens and farms around here, coming across an elephant is not an uncommon occurrence. At times, they come here and destroy crops; at others they simply come and rest in herds. It, therefore, becomes difficult to carry on with everyday work as there’s always a fear of accidentally enraging a wild elephant or coming too close to it,” says Bejna Sawra, a worker at the Sessa tea garden, Sonitpur region.
This is the plight of most farm workers and tea estate owners in the area, who undergo major economic distress when their farms are raided and crops destroyed. In many instances, conflicts with wild elephants have even cost villagers and farm workers their lives. At other times, elephants – seen as the cause of this loss - have themselves become victims of retaliatory killings.
Bamboo fences, under such circumstances, can become a source of major relief for both elephants and humans. As a plant native to Assam, this bamboo species grows easily and thrives well in the region’s weather, making it a low maintenance fence material. Through WWF-India’s initiative to develop bio-fences with bamboo, and similar native species, in Sessa, Ghoirallie, Borjuli and Dhulapadung Tea Estates, a number of locals have been employed and engaged in bamboo production and fence installation.
“So far, we have conducted trainings on bamboo plantation in the Sessa region for 15 garden representatives. Till now we have fenced one km of area using plantations and plan to plant at least 40,000 saplings by the end of next year,” says Hiten Baishya, coordinator, elephant conservation, WWF-India. The only drawback of the method, as some people believe, is that while the farms that are fenced will stay protected, elephants will be diverted to the ones that are not. “But this is a problem with all kinds of fencing techniques,” says David Smith, project officer NBL conservation programme, WWF India, Tezpur . “With this technique, however, we are looking at a long term solution since bamboo fences do not require regular maintenance and are sturdier than their electric counterparts. This is why, once the method proves successful, we would like to do this on a much larger scale,” he adds.
With techniques such as bamboo fencing and many others, WWF-India is trying to reach out to as many villages as is possible to mitigate human-elephant conflict. As approximately 50% of the country’s population comes directly in contact with nature on a daily basis for its livelihood, WWF-India aims to help communities build their own future – a future that is sustainable, economical and centered around environmental values.