Making good neighbours

Understanding and reducing conflict between farmers and elephants

Asian elephants in the Western Ghats live cheek-by-jowl with cultivation and human dwellings. Conflict, which undermines the well-being of  both people and elephants, is often the result. Our project, designed as a conservation experiment, strived to understand and reduce conflicts around Bandipur Tiger Reserve. 

  • Human-wildlife conflict is often the inevitable consequence of a close interface between forest and farmland

  • The grim reality of living on the fringe of a wildlife reserve: jowar (sorghum) crop destroyed by elephants

  • Sometimes, elephants also perish when desperate farmers seek desperate measures to protect their crops

  • Barriers, such as elephant proof trenches, are often undermined by the very people whose crops it tries to protect

  • Farmers of the Hasiru Raitha Okkoota (Green Farmers' Collective) install an electric fence to protect their crops

  • A diversity of creative approaches—to match the variety of local conditions—are necessary to reduce human wildlife conflict

Understanding risk to farming from elephants

Growing conflict with people is a serious challenge to the survival of elephants. People living and farming at the fringes of elephant habitat face great risk to life and livelihood from elephants. At the same time, pervasive pressures on forests, often by the same beleaguered communities, degrades elephant habitat, aggravating their tendency to seek food in crop fields. Efforts of park managements to restrict access of local communities to forest-based resources while denying them alternate benefits of conservation and expecting them to bear conservation costs, has deepened resource-conflicts into serious park-people antagonism. Such antagonism, often expressed as retaliatory killing of elephants, undermines elephant conservation.  As people and elephants spiral down this dangerous vortex, we must ask: is this not avoidable?

Between 2007 and 2012, NCF’s team set out to work with farming communities around Bandipur to understand conflicts and help reduce them. We tried to understand how these farmers interacted among themselves, with their neighbouring forests, with the elephants that regularly visited them, and the consequences of such interactions for them. Over five years, we monitored conflicts across 4,000 acres of farmland in 18 villages around Bandipur, recording over 5,000 incidents of crop loss. Our investigations suggested that the challenge in reducing crop losses lay in creating effective local institutions to oversee conflict alleviation at a local scale.

Securing crops... with farmers

We worked in partnership with farmers to help establish a Farmers’ Collective. Here, NCF played the role of a service provider by raising the capital to install an electric fence. The Collective could then function profitably by raising all maintenance and replacement costs for the fence from farmers themselves. Hence, for a fraction of the costs previously borne, farmers could achieve total protection of their crops from wildlife.

Initial success in Bandipur resulted in Hasiru Raitha Okkoota expanding from 11 families to 60 families thereby increasing the community area protected from 20 acres to over 110 acres.

People

Publications

  • Popular Article
    2010
    Desperate neighbours: wildlife and the rural poor
    The Hindu Survey of the Environment 2010, pp. 113-118
    Download

    PDF, 3.79 MB

    A conservation plan that is not blind to people's needs can be rewarding, as the story of two villages on the fringe of Bandipur Forest Reserve shows. Pavithra Sankaran and MD Madhusudan explain how a novel plan got it right.

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