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Chia: The Super Crop helping reduce man animal conflict
| May 03, 2018
In 2008, 60 tribal families from the DB Kuppe range of Nagarahole Tiger Reserve voluntarily relocated outside the forest to the Sollepura relocation centre through a government funded relocation program. Inside the forest, the tribals were hunter gatherers, but when they moved out, they had to familiarize themselves with the art of agriculture. Despite initial difficulties, with time they slowly learned, practiced and are now proud first-generation farmers.
Chia being grown as a second crop in Sollepura relocation centre ©P M Muthanna
Though happier outside the forest with access to schools, markets, and a hospital nearby, elephants and wild boars constantly raided their crops. In the summers, when it gets hot and the fruits grow in abundance, the animals venture out to get their share of sweet treats. Finding a crop that did not attract the wild animals was of utmost importance and finally when it felt like nothing would work, Chia entered the Indian agriculture and food industry like a miracle.
Chia, a Mexican superfood rich in fibre, antioxidants, and Omega 3 helps cut the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. According to a recent survey, India is highly deficient in Omega 3 and hence consumption of Chia seeds has been actively encouraged. Apart from the Superfood it is, it has also proved to be a Super crop. On a visit to the Hadiyala wildlife range of Bandipur in August 2017, our Assistant Director of Conservation, PM Muthanna stumbled across the cultivation of Chia in the region and got curious. He learnt that not only did the crop require lesser water as compared to crops like rice and sugarcane, it also did not attract wildlife and there was a drastic reduction in conflicts after cultivating Chia.
After his Bandipur visit, when he met with the Nagarahole Project team, he suggested the possibility of cultivating Chai in the Sollepura relocation center. The 60 relocated families of Sollepura relocation center are being supported by WCS India in the field of agriculture, healthcare, and education. The livelihood support program is aided by the RBS Foundation under Supporting Enterprise in the Malenad Mysore Landscape.
WCS project staff HL Govindappa, working in the Sollepura relocation center was the first to take the initiative. He identified three tribal men namely Dasappa, Basappa and Bhaskar for the cultivation of Chia. All three of them were given chia seeds to cultivate over an area of one acre. Under the guidance of Govindappa, it was cultivated as a second crop after the harvest of their regular crop mainly ragi, maize or cotton.
Chia being harvested under the guidance of Govindappa H L ©P M Muthanna
Over the next 3 months, the crop grew without any irrigation facilities but with the help of little spells of rain and did not attract wildlife. Upon harvesting, Dasappa received 66,000 rupees for 300kgs, Basappa received 90,000 rupees for 500 kgs and Bhaskar got 73,700 rupees for 335 kgs of Chia. Being a cash crop, Chia has immense value both in the Indian and foreign market. The more the production of Chia, the more the exports and the better the benefits for farmers.
The awareness for Chia is slowly increasing as more and more people are including it in their daily diet. It can be easily incorporated into salads, curries, and dals. From an agricultural point of view, the crop is an ideal investment in the hot summer months where water for irrigation is always an issue. Since it grows with the help of just natural fertilisers and does not attract the cattle or wildlife, it is quite hassle free to cultivate Chia.
Chia being loaded to be sold in retail ©P M Muthanna
Changes in the crop pattern from traditional crops to crops like sugarcane, banana and paddy is the main reason for a spike in raids by wild animals and hence a shift towards crops which do not attract wild animals is the first step to address this issue. If crops such as Chia are cultivated in areas of human animal conflict, it might help in reducing distress to both humans and wildlife.
Written and compiled by Meghana Sanka