For the first time ever in Assam or perhaps in the country, the villagers of Ronghang-Hatikhuli area in central Assam’s Nagaon district have donated their lands to create a meal zone for the elephants. It is a project taken up by Binod ‘Dulu’ Borah, widely known as the defender of the wilds. The move has been initiated in order to stop the man-animal conflicts while keeping crop-raiding elephants off crops.
The villagers, who are mostly farmers and lead a hand to mouth life by farming, donated 203 bighas of land to begin ‘Jumbo Kheti’ exclusively for the elephants that often come down the hills of the adjoining Karbi Anglong district in search of food.
‘Jumbo Kheti’ has been initiated by Dulu in association with NGO Hatibondhu as a mealy defence against some 350-400 elephants which venture into human habitations leading to man-animal conflict taking lives of both man and jumbos.
About 10 km from the paddy field, toward the hills, local villagers have planted Napier grass in an 8-hectare plot. They have also planted saplings of 2,000 Outenga (elephant apple), 1,500 jackfruit and 25,000 banana plants and Kumbhi (a species of wild fruit) on barren land between the paddy field and grass plantation.
“We were sceptical about the project thinking what if the jumbos uproot the trees while eating…it will be a failure. Recultivation will be a pricey affair. But luckily, the elephants didn’t uproot the plants. The Divisional Forest Officer, Rohini Ballav Saikia was extremely impressed and told us that he will make a proposal to departmentally continue this ‘Jumbo Kheti with minimum cost,” Dulu said while speaking to Time8.
Meanwhile, Dulu has taken up an ‘Elephant Map Project’ to see which route they follow so as to know where to make provision for food.
“Jumbo Kheti was the brainchild of Pradip Kumar Bhuyan, the director of the NGO, Hatibondhu. He sent me saplings of Napier grass from Guwahati as the grass is not easily available anywhere and everywhere”, said Dulu while talking to Time8.
“Convincing the villagers was a real challenge. A total of eighteen meetings were held to convince them. The villagers were made to realise that they would be setting an example for the world to follow towards reducing man-animal conflicts,” Dulu told Time8on Tuesday.
Dulu said the man-animal conflict increases during the harvesting season. Around eight-ten elephants are killed every year along with humans. “Since the jumbos damage their houses, trample their crops, the villagers had gradually developed a hatred for the jumbos,” he said.
“I decided to erase all the ill feelings between man and jumbos. We pulled out all the stops to convince the villagers, who were from the Karbi community but they initially thought that I am doing this for my own interest and I will encroach their land. Then, I started involving the community people by different means in the cultivation. I gave them gifts, organized a felicitation programme, honoured them with our Axomiya Gamusa. I made the villagers realize that ‘Jumbo Kheti’ if done will bring them pride,” Dula further said.
Guwahati | Edited by: Arpita Das | First Published: Aug 14, 2019