The crop in the field is ready and the harvest season is beginning. Instead of looking forward to a good harvest, the farmers of Sattari are getting anxious as the ripening crop has become the target of raiding wild animals. A number of farmers, at a collective meeting, have now decided that they will kill the ‘vermin’ animals that enter their fields and destroy the produce, which is not just paddy, but includes arecanut, coconut, banana and sugar. Their reasoning here is – either our produce and livelihood or the animals. The farmers had demanded in the past and have renewed their demand that the bison and the monkey be declared as vermin animals so that they could be killed. A few years ago, there had been a move to do so, but as the bison – also known as the gaur – is the State animal, the decision to list it among the vermin animals in Goa was put on hold.
The demand by farmers across the State to declare certain animals as vermin is an old one. Once an animal is declared as vermin it can be hunted and killed. This provision has been allowed by the Centre so as to bring down the number of animals of species that are overpopulated and that damage crops of farmers. Goa is yet to declare any animal as vermin, with farmers having demanded that wild boar and peacock also be included in the list. This suggestion of the farmers had raised a controversy of its own as the peacock is the national bird, which had led to even the national media taking up the issue.
The man-animal conflict has been growing in Goa. In July a wild bison had caused the death of a 23-year-old girl in the State. In the past there have been jackal attacks on humans. But animals destroying farm produce is the most common complaint. In mid-August, at another meeting of the farmers it had come to light that over 400 farmers have applied for compensation due to losses, in itself an indication that this clash needs to be resolved. Animal lovers will confirm that the conflict that is arising is mainly due to the ingress humans have made into the forests, destroying the natural habitat of the animals, which forces the wild animals to forage for food within human habitation.
It is important to understand that the animals will go in search of food, and eat whatever they come across. The crop in the fields now close to ripe for harvesting, becomes just right for the animals foraging for food. The farmers themselves have proffered a reason why the animals are straying into the farms. According to them, the government agencies have failed to grow trees that can serve as food for the animals, an implication that deforestation is one of the causes. The farmers’ claim is that the Forest Department has grown Akashi trees in the forests, which do not serve as food for the animals. A little change in policies could therefore help reduce the conflict, if the Department can ensure that trees grown in the forest will provide food and a natural habitat for the animals.
Killing the animals, even if declared as ‘vermin’ is not the answer, but a coexistence between the two where man respects the rights of the animals to have their space has to come first. If the animal is allowed to live in his habitat, the incidents of crop damage will drop drastically. The government has to act before the farmers of Sattari carry out their threat. They are tired of waiting, and patience is running thin as the matter has remained unresolved for years.