Wildlife threatens many poor farmers' crops: WWF

GENEVA (Reuters) - Elephants and other wildlife damage millions of dollars’ worth of poor farmers’ crops each year, which could be avoided with proper fencing and better land use, a leading environmental group said on Wednesday.

An Asian Elephant greets visitors during an animal show at the Singapore Zoo May 4, 2008. REUTERS/Tim Chong

The Swiss-based WWF, formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund, said wild elephants cost Namibian communal farmers $1 million a year, and up to a quarter of the household incomes of poor farming families in Nepal.

Indonesian palm oil companies and other agri-businesses can also lose significant income from elephant encroachment and efforts to keep them off farms, according to WWF.

“Governments could save human lives and millions of dollars in crop and income losses for the rural poor through better consideration of the needs of wildlife,” it said in a report describing the competition between wild elephants and people for land, food and water in Nepal, Indonesia and Namibia.

The increasing human population and destruction of animal habitats by global warming mean people and wildlife were living closer together than ever before, often creating serious problems.

“When wildlife lose their natural habitats and have reduced access to natural food sources, they eat agricultural crops, livestock, and can destroy property and can injure or kill people,” the WWF report found.

Many communities capture or kill animals in retaliation for such damage, threatening biodiversity in already vulnerable and impoverished areas, the conservation group said.

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Namibian crop enterprises located near unfenced wildlife habitats can be “entirely economically unviable”, the WWF said, recommending that farms be set up as far from such areas as possible. Governments should not offer incentives for farming in areas near wildlife zones, it said.

Farmers in Nepal experienced more crop damage when nearby forests are sparse, the study found. The WWF also concluded that in Riau, Indonesia, human deaths from elephants have been most frequent in heavily deforested areas.

In addition to reducing wildlife habitats, the WWF said declining forest cover in Riau would make it difficult for the region to capitalize on its carbon-rich peat swamp forests, an important future source of globally exchanged carbon credits.

“There are many land uses that do not attract wildlife and can act as buffers,” the WWF said, noting that certain plants serve to deter wild elephants and other animals who would otherwise destroy agricultural crops.

It also called for increased cooperation between government divisions, the agricultural industry and the forestry sector to ensure that farmlands and human settlements are planned in a way that minimizes damage to wildlife, and vice versa.

edited by Richard Meares