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Solar fences make good neighbours

Posted by: Yes Solar Cape (Cape Town, South Africa) – 16 October 2010

For Narad Mani Poudel, a 45-year-old farmer living in the Madi valley of Chitwan, Nepal, life used to be in a constant state of terror. Recalling an incident three years ago, he said, “Wild elephants ransacked my house and consumed almost all of the rice that I had stored for the coming season. My family and I could do nothing but watch, thankful that we got away with our lives.”

Tiger at Valmiki Tiger Reserve

Situated in the southern part of Chitwan, the Madi valley is surrounded on all the sides by protected areas; the southern border is shared with India, through the Valmiki Tiger Reserve. However, this unique geography has led to human-wildlife conflict, resulting in severe crop damage, attacks on livestock, destruction of property and human injuries and casualties. Traditional methods of defending crops from wildlife – torches, drums, trenches and thorn bushes – proved futile. Already poor and struggling to make ends meet, the communities of Chitwan took a dim view of the parks and the animals that inhabited them; some retaliated with violence.

Purna Bahadur Kunwar, Co-manager for WWF-Nepal’s Terai Arc Landscape Protected Areas and Buffer Zone project, remembers back to 2007, when he began discussions about biodiversity conservation with community groups. “They repeated a local adage, saying they are trapped in a ‘natural jail.’ They were not paying any attention to us at that moment.”

But over the course of several months, the community groups and WWF found common ground. Residents wanted to live in peace, and WWF wanted to safeguard endangered tiger, rhino and elephant populations. Both agreed that the solution might lie in another adage: Good fences make good neighbors.

“We worked together on a detailed plan for solar-powered electric fencing. The proposal included total cost, community contribution, the possibility to leverage other funds and a management and maintenance plan for the wooden fence posts. With this plan, we called a joint meeting of four Buffer Zone User Committees of Madi,” said Kunwar.

Support for the project was unanimous. The committees chose to start from the southeastern corner of Madi valley, the Ayodhyapuri, which is contiguous to the Parsa Wildlife Reserve and home to wild elephants. It was also the area with the most reported cases of human-wildlife conflict. With the installation of 14km of solar fence, wildlife damage to crops and property dropped immediately.

WWF-Nepal assessed the first harvest following the installation of the fence and found that the value of the crop production has increased by 300%. What’s more, farmers have now started to cultivate other crops during winter season. A farmer in Ayodhyapuri expressed his satisfaction at having harvested lentils for the first time in 29 years; before he kept his field fallow during lentil cultivation because the risk of encountering wildlife or losing his whole crop was just too high.

The fence is maintained by community members, with each household contributing cash on the basis of its land holding. The farmer Narad Mani says he can sleep soundly all night without fear of his crops being destroyed or his family being harmed.

“Based on this experience, we plan to replicate this achievement with three other Buffer Zone User Committees,” said Kunwar. “I have a vision to develop this valley as a poaching free zone. Instead of lamenting their ‘natural jail,’ now I hear people say, ‘If there is a heaven, it is Madi.’”

By: Purna Bahadur Kunwar
Source: WWF

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