An inexpensive, thorny bio-fence yielding lemons appears to have succeeded in keeping elephants away from crops in Assam.
Several strategies have been applied over the years across Assam’s human-elephant conflict (HEC) hotspots. They range from audio systems enhancing the sound of a swarm of buzzing bees to hurling chilli bombs, erecting electric fences and setting aside land in elephant corridors for growing plants the animal relishes.
A pilot project on lemon fences around the croplands of farmers in Soraguri Chapori on the bank of the Brahmaputra River has been found to be more effective apart from being affordable. The place is in the Dikhowmukh area of eastern Assam’s Sivasagar district.
“These lemon fences not only protect us and our farmsteads from wild elephants that often move through our areas after deviating from their usual route in search of fodder but also provide us with a substantial income per month,” Nitul Das, who owns a farmstead in the area said.
He said the lemon fences have added about ₹8,000 per month to the family income. He usually sells lemons at ₹8 apiece.
“Three years ago, when we did not have the fences, wild elephants used to raid and destroy the vegetables we grew,” Mr Das said, lauding Guwahati-headquartered NGO Aaranyak for coming up with the project.
His neighbours, Rinku Das and Sombar Hazarika, also vouched for the efficacy of the bio-fence and said they are now assured that their hard work would not go in vain.
Niranjan Bhuyan, who handled Aaranyak’s bio-fence pilot project at Soraguri Chapori, said the farmers were provided with lemon saplings and trained in planting them in three rows around their farmsteads. “The farmers who accepted the project are now reaping the benefits besides getting protection from raids by wild elephants,” he said.
“We have also been providing alternative crops to people living in some of the HEC areas after two years of field experimentation. Farmers are encouraged to cultivate crops that are less palatable to wild elephants. These tried and tested alternative crops include wild turmeric, taro roots and lemongrass,” Aaranyak senior scientist Bibhuti Prasad Lahkar said.
He is also a member of the IUCN’s Asian Elephant Specialist Group.
Some of the HEC hotspots the NGO is working on are in Baksa, Goalpara, Golaghat and Udalguri districts of Assam apart from Sivasagar.