- Solar fencing was tested as a solution to combat human-animal negative interaction (HANI) in the Chug valley, Arunachal Pradesh.
- Two years after the installation of solar fences at Pangsa and Tsangpa, two villages in Chug valley, the people from both the villages face a similar challenge – maintenance of fences.
- A better understanding of the themes such as the distribution of decision-making power in villages, social relations within the community and the level of cohesion among members, can lead to improved implementation of conservation solutions.
- The views in this commentary are of the author.
Chug, located in the Dirang region of Arunachal Pradesh, is a green and golden valley, with maize and rice fields running parallel to it on both sides and cosmos flowers crowning the entry to stone and wooden houses. Inhabited by the Chugpa community, which is a part of the Monpa tribe, the valley of Chug comprises seven villages – Pangsa, Tsangpa, Maleyama, Leoring, Duhum, Samtu and Laphyak. In 2020, these seven villages had declared 92.5 sq km of their community-owned forests as Chug Community Conserved Area (CCA). A community conserved area is an area designated for community-based nature conservation and promotion of sustainable livelihoods.
World Wide Fund for Nature-India, more commonly 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 farm-based interventions.
Camera trapping exercises have shown the vast biodiversity in 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 the human-animal negative interaction (HANI). Domesticated and wild animals forage on crops, which leads to a decrease in the extent of land farmed in Chug CCA.
Through a resource mapping exercise with the communities of all 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 for piloting solutions to mitigate HANI. They both collectively comprise of 39 heads of households (HHs) according to the 2011 Census.
WWF India’s project activities in Chug valley are supported by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) India Foundation.
Human-animal negative interaction in Tsangpa and Pangsa
Among the crops cultivated by the people of Tsangpa and Pangsa, maize and rice cover more than two-thirds of the farmlands in Chug CCA. Animals such as domestic cows, black bears, barking deer, goats, horses, macaques, porcupines and wild pigs, pose a challenge to the farmers and their crops. The crops which are affected from HANI are maize, rice, potato, soyabean, brinjal, lai-patta (leafy vegetable famous in the northeast India), broad beans, cabbage, cucumber, pumpkin and onion. Most of the damage is caused by domestic animals than wild animals.
On the basis on monetary loss, the animals that posed as a threat to the 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 loss from HANI per household is approximately Rs. 4,000. There is no compensation system as of yet for the losses caused by HANI at Chug CCA.
Solar fencing as a solution to address human-animal negative interaction
Learning from the effectiveness of solar fencing to address crop depredation by wildlife in Zemithang, WWF-India recommended solar fencing as a solution to the communities living in Chug CCA, to combat human-animal negative interaction. The non-lethal solar fence serves as a deterrent and covers the boundaries of the farms, mainly sections at the fringe of forests and animal entry zones. The construction of solar fences is promoted in partnership with the communities, where both WWF-India and the communities contribute in both cash and kind. After the construction of the fence, its maintenance is entirely the community’s responsibility. An exercise conducted for the communities shows more efficacy in this project if it’s done in partnership with them and has scope to materialise into their existing resource management systems for long-term sustainability.
Throughout the process of installing the fence, the communities were regularly consulted. First, a resource mapping exercise was conducted to identify which areas had the highest levels of HANI in the two villages. It was found that these sections were closest to the forest. Second, a household survey covering 30% of the village was conducted to identify the animals that cause threat to the crops and the intensity of damage. After the survey, the solar fencing site was finalised with the Mangma (a traditional governing body headed by village head – gaon burah). The identification process was followed by listing the farmers whose land falls within the boundary of the solar fence. The third step was the collection of wooden poles and the procurement of machines for the solar fence. The procurement of machines for solar fencing was done by WWF- India. All the farmers whose land fell under the solar fencing area were asked to collect wooden poles of length five-six feet. After the wooden poles were collected, WWF-India sent an engineer to the field, to help the residents with the installation. During the installation period, everyone was invited to be a part of erecting the fence.
Social and external influences in implementing the solution
In the installation process, there was a great participation from Pangsa, with all the farmers coming forward to contribute through shramdaan (volunteering labour). This was not the case in Tsangpa. The initial couple of days, saw a very low level of participation from the community. However, eventually more farmers started coming forward to be a part of the installation process. This is due to an apprehension towards solar fencing from the farmers of Tsangpa.
In both the villages, the Mangma played a key role in mobilising the community. The difference in leadership in the two villages and the differences in social cohesion, impacted the execution of the fence. While WWF-India helped in addressing the community’s doubts by creating a problem-solving platform, these efforts could be realised more in Pangsa than Tsangpa. This was due to the difference in the decision- making power and influence of the traditional governing body in their respective villages.
Two years after the installation of solar fences at Pangsa and Tsangpa (villages in Chug valley), to deal with human-animal negative interaction, the people face a similar challenge – maintenance. In both the villages, farmers whose farms were not on the periphery of the forest refused to contribute to the maintenance of the fence. While the Mangma in Pangsa brought together other farmers to maintain the fence, the Mangma in Tsangpa had difficulties in doing so.
The need to understand social dynamics in village administration structures
Different solutions were suggested in Tsangpa for addressing the problem of maintaining the fence – such as hiring a security guard from the community on a monthly basis or fixed monthly or one-time monetary contribution for fence maintenance.
To promote the use of solar fencing in winters as well, 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 that is to be adopted by the community requires continuous engagement and further hand holding until the system is efficient enough to run by itself.
It has been more than two years since the installation of both the fences. The solar fence in both the villages are currently working, the villagers are cultivating both summer and winter crops inside the fence and have also earned revenue from selling surplus produce from their farms. Apart from also doing winter cropping, the villagers have seen a marked reduction in crop depredation. The villagers are also devising their own methods of mending the design of the fence, such as decreasing the gap between two strands of the fence and bringing it closer to the ground to make it more effective against wild pigs.
Apart from having 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, and the level of cohesion among members etc. A better understanding of these themes can lead to improved implementation of conservation solutions.
The author is a senior project officer with WWF-India, who works on community-based conservation initiatives and strengthening forest-based livelihoods in partnership with local communities.
Banner image: Community members of Chug CCA discuss on the issues of human-animal negative interactions. Photo by Manisha Kumari.