Novel approaches help farmers avoid losses from human–wildlife conflict

Increasing human populations, development and habitat loss are leading to conflict between smallholders and wildlife around the world. A SHARP-commissioned report on Payments for Ecosystem Services and the ongoing trials for the simplified HCV approach, illustrate opportunities for farmers to manage losses from human–wildlife conflict and conserve high conservation values.

In landscapes dominated by farmland, wildlife is often placed in direct competition with farmers for space and resources. Raids on crops and livestock, destruction of property and even human fatality are just some of the unwelcome impacts. In many cases this leads to disproportionate economic losses for smallholders, as well as retaliatory attacks on endangered animals which may threaten their survival. Where protected species are concerned, farmers trying to resolve their wildlife problem may also face legal consequences.

In commodity-crop production, human–wildlife conflict can undermine farmers’ ability to produce efficiently. Global oil-palm production has been particularly challenged by conflict with wildlife involving big cats, elephants and apes. In West Africa, raiding of plantations by chimpanzees has resulted in violent confrontation with farmers (see here and here). Similarly in Borneo, growers have erected electric fencing to prevent damaging incursion by elephants into oil palm plantations.

The solutions to this growing conflict are contentious, with popular local opinion favouring killing or translocating problem animals. However, these actions are often only a temporary answer.

Payments for Ecosystem Services programmes are an alternative approach which create incentives for communities to protect wildlife. Where smallholders are concerned it may help with material compensation and support to create alternative incomes which avoid or mitigate conflict. The recent SHARP report describes a project in Uganda to create wildlife corridors for chimpanzees which compensates villagers for protecting their forest habitat.

The simplified HCV approach for smallholders also offers potential for combating human–wildlife conflict, by helping farmers identify and discuss conflict species in the production landscape, learn about any legal protection and develop precautionary practices. In combination with voluntary and statutory regulation to minimise deforestation, these farmer-friendly interventions can have a real impact on the ground, helping both farmers and wildlife to navigate some of the challenges associated with a changing global ecological and economic environment.

 

Image: Teague O'Mara