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Indian Farmers Grow Herbs To Save Farms From Hungry Monkeys

Farmers in India switch to herbs to thwart hungry monkeys

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Indian farmers switch to herb cultivation
Farmers face huge loses due to monkeys attacking their farms in India. Pixabay

A group of farmers from Magroo village in India’s northern state of Himachal Pradesh listens intently as agriculture experts hold a workshop to explain how growing herbs instead of traditional crops such as rice, wheat and corn could save their farms from the ravages of monkeys.

For years they have waged a losing battle with growing hordes of the red-faced rhesus macaques. Displaced by shrinking forests and rapidly spreading urban centers, the primates raid farms in several northern Indian states, searching for food and destroying crops worth millions of dollars.

“In the day we roam around with dogs and we use an air gun,” said farmer Babu Ram. “Then they run off quickly, otherwise it is difficult to keep away the monkeys.” But guarding the fields at night poses a challenge, especially for those that aren’t close to his home.

The growing menace has prompted many in the state nestled in the Himalayan mountains to abandon farming – an estimated 40 per cent of the farmland here is fallow as dejected farmers gave up planting crops.

Indian farmers switch to herb cultivation
Farmers in India learning to save their farms from Monkeys through workshops. Pixabay

Agriculture experts are pushing a solution: switching to herbs only protects their crops but also fetches higher profits.

Monkeys do not attack crops such as aloe vera, a herb with medicinal properties. And they fetch better profits due to surging demand for herbs from domestic companies making medicinal and personal care products. India’s booming herbal product industry is worth $4 billion and growing at a fast pace.

“We teach farmers the kind of crop they can grow according to the soil, the water and air in that area, what market exists for it and how he can increase his income by two or three times per acre,” says Arun Chandan, regional director at the National Medicinal Plants Board for North India. “For example, a herb locally called “sarpgandha” gives farmers eight to ten times the profit compared to wheat.”

Some farmers have already greened their fields with the board’s assistance, which provides planting material and training. Farmer Bipin Kumar in Magroo village says the lower Himalayas are particularly suitable for growing herbs. After starting plants such as aloe vera, stevia and lemongrass, he now plans to expand to other herbs.

“I still have a lot of vacant lands which I will cultivate because I am getting a good market, he said. “And I am learning that there are other herbs that I can grow.” He said the herbs survive even in relatively drier soils and do not get damaged by dense fog which is common in the hills.

Experts have shortlisted about 100 herbs that could be grown on the barren farmland where villagers gave up cultivating crops.

So far nearly 4,000 farmers have switched to growing herbs in seven North Indian states – in Himachal Pradesh, the number is 300.

“The ones who are successful are those who have entrepreneurship, who are willing to innovate. For example, they can plant short-term herbs in between other crops,” says Chandan. His organization also links farmers in remote villages with potential buyers to ensure they can market their crops.

Indian farmers switch to herb cultivation
Farmers learn the benefits of growing herbs instead of other crops. Pixabay

The havoc caused by monkeys is not restricted to rural areas – their numbers are growing in towns and even in the capital New Delhi, where they are infamous for snatching food and even mobile phones. In December, advisers gave lawmakers tips on dealing with monkeys often seen around parliament. The experts said to leave the animals alone and don’t make eye contact.

The monkey population has surged since India banned their export for biomedical research in 1978.

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The problem has been exacerbated because many in Hindu-majority India revere and feed the animals that they link to the Hindu deity Hanuman, who takes the form of a monkey.

But the brunt of the marauding monkeys is being felt in villages like Magroo in North India. Faced with growing losses, even older farmers here are now considering changing age-old farming patterns, although it’s hard to alter practices handed down generations.

Growing rice, corn and wheat is second nature to 79-year-old Charan Das, who has worked in the fields since he was a child. But after watching monkeys eat up more and more of his crop, he wants to shift to growing herbs.

“I will have to plant whatever the animals don’t eat,” he says ruefully. “At least then I will get some reward for my work.”

That is the message going out from workshops like the one in Magroo – there is a way to stay ahead of the monkeys. (VOA)

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Visit Himachal Pradesh to Bask in the Warmth of Mellow Sunshine!

Chandigarh's meteorological department said dense to very dense fog would likely to continue at a few places in Punjab and Haryana till Wednesday

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Tirthan Valley in Himachal Pradesh is one of the lesser known travel destinations in india. Wikimedia Commons
Tirthan Valley in Himachal Pradesh is one of the lesser known trekking destinations in India. Wikimedia Commons

The weather is ‘cosy’ these days in hills of Himachal Pradesh compared to the Northern plains where dense fog is screening out the sun.

The hilly state is receiving regular sunshines and for a longer duration.

The weather in picturesque tourist resorts of Shimla, Kufri, Narkanda, Kasauli, Chail, Dharamsala, Palampur and Manali is ‘warm’ and perfect for a break from the biting chill of the plains where the sun has largely been fogged out.

“What a mellow sunshine is in Shimla,” remarked Kriti Aggarwal, a tourist from Delhi.

She said it was a great relief from the prevailing fog that did not allow sun rays to penetrate over ground levels.

Her friend Kanika Gupta added: “For hours, we relaxing and basking under the sun. Even nights are cosy here compared to the plains.”

Manmohan Singh, director of Shimla’s meteorological department, told IANS on Monday that most of the hill destinations have a pleasant weather owing to long sunny days compared to the plains.

“The maximum temperature in the hills is two-three degrees below average but due to prevailing sunny days the temperature will see rise and will be normal in a day or two,” he said.

According to him, dry weather would largely prevail in the state till December 31, ruling out the possibility of snow and rain across the state.

Himachal, the most wanted place to visit for New Year
Himachal, the most wanted place to visit for New Year. Wikimedia Commons

The humidity level over 80 per cent causes fog. In the the hills it’s around 50 per cent currently, compared to 80 per cent in the hills.

In Shimla, located around 7,000 feet above sea level, the maximum temperature on Sunday was 13.8 degrees Celsius, while the minimum was 3.6 degrees on Monday.

The night temperature in Dharamsala was 2.6 degrees Celsius, whereas popular tourist resort Manali saw a low of minus three degrees.

At 14.3 degrees below freezing point, Keylong in Lahaul-Spiti district was the coldest in the state. Kalpa, some 250 km from the state capital, saw a low of minus 2.9 degrees Celsius.

In Chandigarh, the maximum temperature was 0.6 degree Celsius less than Shimla’s on Sunday, with the minimum hovering around 9 degrees Celsius.

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The Met office in Chandigarh predicted foggy conditions to continue in the city till Wednesday.

The prevailing maximum temperature in Chandigarh is six to seven degrees below season’s average due cloudy and shallow fog.

Chandigarh’s meteorological department said dense to very dense fog would likely to continue at a few places in Punjab and Haryana till Wednesday. (IANS)