For more than a decade, Jiyalal’s four bighas of cultivable land in Tarapur Naya Gaon village in the Mashobra block of Shimla district, Himachal Pradesh, had been rendered barren. The reason, monkeys and boars that created havoc on the farm and would not leave even a shaving of any crop that he grew. There was no point in spending money on inputs, says Jiyalal, and then seeing the crops being destroyed before one’s own eyes even before they were ready for harvesting. He finally gave up agriculture and picked up odd jobs as a daily wager to earn a living.
However, two years back, at a block-level meeting organised by the agriculture department, he learnt about a solar fencing system that could protect crops from wild and stray animals. The government would bear 80 per cent of the cost, he was informed. This meant he would have to spend Rs 85,000 to protect his four bighas of land, while the rest would be borne by the government. He decided to go for it and took loans from his relatives and friends to make the payment. The fencing was completed a year back. He has since grown green peas and other vegetables. This time wild animals could not enter his land and destroy or damage his yield, and he was able to earn around Rs 10,000. Now Jiyalal has sown two quintals of potato seeds and hopes to earn much more after harvesting the crop.
Dharamdutt from Bhajyar, Shimla district, could save his maize crop from monkeys with solar fencing. He is now growing vegetables. Dharamdutt spent Rs 50,000 from his pocket to fence his two bighas of land. Dharamdutt believes that the system is worth the cost it entails because the cost of crops destroyed by monkeys and boars was much more than the one-time investment in solar fencing.
Jiyalal and Dharamdutt are not the only ones. Thousands of farmers had started giving up agriculture as a source of livelihood in several parts of the state because of the damage caused by animals. It had become a big issue and was debated for years inside and outside the state legislature. According to estimates provided by the state Department of Agriculture and Horticulture, an area of 156,000 hectares is affected by the monkey menace in 10 out of 12 districts in the state in over 2,300 villages, causing an annual loss of Rs 2.29 billion to the farmers. This is in addition to the loss of employment and livelihood. Studies by some NGOs have pegged the loss to be much higher than these estimates.
Solar fencing scheme
In 2016-17, the state government decided to launch a subsidised scheme for solar fencing under the Mukhya Mantri Khet Sanwardhan Yojana, to enable farmers to grow crops in their cultivable land without the fear of destruction by monkeys and other animals. Initially, the government had offered to bear 60 per cent of the cost, but raised it to 80 per cent for individual farmers and 85 per cent for community fencing.
Solar fencing system
Under the heavily subsidised scheme, farmers can get a solar power fencing system installed around their cultivable land. The scheme promotes the use of solar PV technology as an independent power source in the agriculture sector. The system includes solar PV panels and high tension wires, and involves fencing of different perimeters ranging from 100 metres to 1,500 metres. The solar panel ensures that the battery remains charged at all times. The system has an energiser with a built-in alarm, a 72 Wp solar PV module, a flash light and a lightening diverter. The energiser transforms the low voltage current in the battery to high voltage current (up to 10,000 volts), and sends it to the electric fence. The non-lethal high voltage shock keeps animals away from the fence and protects the field.
The department has empanelled 32 companies for the installation of the system. These companies are responsible for training users to undertake operations and maintenance of the solar fencing. They are also obligated to supply spare parts during the warranty period of one-and-a-half years at their own cost. The cost of installing the system comes down with the increase in the length of fencing while the average rate is reduced to Rs 1,100 per metre. The time taken to complete the installation process depends on the length of solar fencing. According to Pranesh Kumar, director, Himoday Solar Energy Private Limited, one of the empanelled companies, it takes about a month to complete the process of solar fencing over a length of 1,000 metres.
To ensure that the empanelled companies do not use sub-standard material and follow the norms and specifications, the department has also revised its guidelines for non-compliance.
Solar over traditional electricity
The main advantage of solar power fencing, according to the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, is that it is completely safe. As the current is pulsating and not live and passing at every 1-1.2 seconds only for a millisecond, the animal gets enough time to withdraw itself from the fence. The pulsating current will not grab the animal. This generally happens when there is continuous current, which causes contraction of muscles and prevents the animal from moving away from the fence leading to electrocution. The wire used in the fencing is plain and not barbed so that the animals do not get trapped in the fence.
The moment the animal touches the wire, an alarm is set off to alert the farmer, who can free the animal and no harm is caused. Thus, the installation of solar-powered systems is the safest way of fencing to ward off wild animals. Even if the animal touches the live wire, it gets only a non-lethal shock.
The second reason for going solar is that animals are less likely to damage the electric fence as they usually do not touch it more than once. Also, solar fencing can perform effectively during all seasons if it is designed keeping in mind the weather conditions during winter and monsoon.
Yet another advantage of solar-powered fencing is that it can be installed in the remotest of areas. Agricultural fields in Himachal Pradesh are fragmented and some are at steep slopes, where power supply is not always possible. Also, there are no recurring costs.
According to Des Raj Sharma, director, Department of Agriculture, Himachal Pradesh, since the launch of the scheme, 1,200 farmers have solar fencing systems installed to protect their fields, as of mid-January, covering an area of 942 hectares. Sharma says that the scheme has picked up pace over the past year after a slow start. In addition to the latest guidelines, some suggestions will be incorporated into the system from March 2019. Farmers like Dharamdutt, who have benefitted from the scheme, felt that the gap in wires should be reduced as smaller animals like rabbits are able to enter the fields. Ashwani Bhardwaj, divisional engineer, Department of Agriculture, says that chain-link fencing will be included in the system from March this year to ensure that even the smallest of animals are not able to enter the fields through gaps in wires.
The scheme is being promoted through awareness camps for farmers, SMS services, exhibitions and fairs, and print, audio and visual media. Jiyalal says that many farmers in his villages want to install a solar fencing system after seeing the results.
In view of the response received in the past year, the state government has earmarked Rs 350 million for the scheme for 2019-20. Hopefully, the solar fencing scheme will reduce the crop loss in the state caused by monkeys and other herbivores, and incentivise farmers to return to their traditional livelihood of agriculture and thus stop migration.
By Sarita Brara