Wednesday, December 8, 2021

With snakes gone, Thar farmers battle rat infestation

HYDERABAD: Thar desert is facing a devastating rodent crisis after an explosion in their ravenous populations that are currently feasting on crops and vegetation like there’s no tomorrow, and giving high-farming-cost-hit growers a million more reasons to worry about.

Rats have damaged standing crops, grain stocks, and residue in fields, sending chills down the spines of the desert farmers.

This season, Thar received heavy rains, which started in June. It has benefitted many farmers in Nagar Parkar to cultivate guar, pearl millet and moth bean, besides short-period melon, watermelon and tinda (apple gourd).

The farmers of Nagar Parkar had harvested bumper crops of pearl millet and guar and earned enough through these short-period crops. However, in other parts of Thar region, only a few farmers could cultivate guar and pearl millet on their lands but untimely because of uncertain rains. Thus, farmers received low yield and only collected fodder for animals with low product of guar.

Usually they get enough food stock for their own consumption as well as crop residue for animals to face the challenges of drought.

Talib Mahar, a farmer from village Barai, Umerkot district, said his family hardly got 15 maund (40kg) (one maund per acre) product after cultivating it over 15 acres of land, which was disappointing. “Otherwise, they usually depend on these crops to recover expenses and live comfortably for the whole year without any economic stress,” Mahar said.

In his understanding, many farmers could not cultivate pearl millet this year because of delayed and uncertain rain phenomenon.

Pearl millet is considered the main food crop in those areas.

He said the area people were very much concerned due to increasing population of rats, which were a serious threat to the food crops in future.

“In fact earlier snakes were there in the area and we never saw rat burrows in the fields at this scale,” he said, adding that this year these burrows meant there were no snakes around to keep the rodent population in check.

Village elders were wondering where the snake, which usually eat these rats and mice, have gone.

Some farmers have faced locust attacks thrice this year, starting from March to June-July, which damaged trees and shrubs. But after rains the rodents have created an uncomfortable situation for farmers, who expected to save fodder for animals in fields but rats left nothing for the livestock.

Snakes play a major role in nature’s pest control system and farmers never experienced such a rodent crisis the entire desert areas.

Jhamandas Sootahar, a soil scientist belonging to Tharparkar district, said increasing rodent population in the desert might create tremendous problems for farmers in future.

“Rat population comes to surface after monsoon rains, where snakes usually control it,” Sootahar said adding that previously farmers had never experienced such a loss of crops like this one.

Sootahar, author of book on guar, has conducted research on this valuable crop and working to promote seeds to grow it in saline lands believing this action-based research may benefit local farmers.

Because, guar does not need more water or chemical input. It can grow on one heavy rain shower and give more yields.

Sootahar argues that Thar soil has a capacity to produce 25 maunds/acre guar crop depending on the conditions. The farmers usually get at least five to eight maunds/acre. But this year they hardly got three to four maunds/acre due to many reasons, mainly delayed rains and mysterious rodent attacks.

He said the guar did not have only commercial purposes, but its residual elements were important for making the soil fertile. “It is among a few crops, which benefits soil fertility. Many people preserve guar with other food items to use the same during the drought-like conditions.

That is why guar crop is known as farmer-friendly, environment- friendly and soil- friendly.”

He said the current year showed guar was a major crop in Thar, which needed to be promoted further so the farmers could earn more.

Sootahar said guar was rich in protein and used as a home remedy for many ailments.

Some farmers said such rodent attacks previously. Rather they were wary of attacks by locusts in the area, which were considered inhabiting in the desert.

Ali Akbar Rahmoon, keeping a close eye over the climate change and status of water in Thar, said extreme weather had disturbed the natural control system and biodiversity. Rahmoon believes fast development of road networks and human activities in the desert might have contributed to disrupting the desert ecosystem.

He said for instance during eighties certain landlords and parliamentarians encouraged people in Thar to kill snakes and get rewarded in cash by them.

“This reward motivated people to kill snakes wherever they saw them, which resulted in overgrowth in rat population next year in the absence of natural predators,” Rahmoon said.

These parliamentarians justified that they were trying to save humans from snakes bite. “But it was the first move to disturb ecosystem and now we are experiencing a rat crisis, because snakes are not there to control natural system.”

He said Thar was witnessing changes in terms of not only rain pattern, but also biodiversity. “For instance, Thar was once home to peacocks, but their population has now shrunk alarmingly. Similarly, habitat loss of many species, including snakes and chameleons, forced them moved to desert areas for survival. But now all wildlife species are at stake,” he added.

In fact there was no data available to assess the impacts of rats and rodents, the farmers look worried about the new challenge, Rahmoon added.

The reports show that rodents play a significant role in influencing food security and poverty alleviation programmes in the rural areas. The other impact may be outbreak of rodent-borne diseases among human population. It’s time the government stepped in and helped the farmers in restoring the balance of nature.



Source: The News

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