Jammu, May 26: Farmers in Jammu and Kashmir's Doda district are switching to cultivation of medicinal plants instead of crops like rice, maize and wheat to save their farms from hungry monkeys.
The depletion of forests have forced the primates to raid farms in search of food, leading to substantial losses to the farmers.
In response, agricultural experts from the AYUSH Ministry have advised farmers to grow herbs instead of traditional crops like rice, wheat and corn, as this not only safeguards their crops but also brings in higher profits.
Many farmers from villages located near forest areas in Doda have embraced this solution and are now cultivating aromatic plants such as lavender and Tagetus Minuta, along with medicinal plants like Trillium (Nag-Chatri), Saussurea Costus (Kuth), Inula (Mannu), Dandelion (Handh), wild garlic and Balsam apple (Ban-Kaakri). These plants taste bitter and have strong pungent smells, making them unappealing to monkeys, officials said.
Touqeer Bagban, a local entrepreneur, said farmers are now reaping better profits due to surging demand for herbs from domestic companies making medicinal and personal care products.
“Officials from the AYUSH Ministry have been actively educating farmers on cultivating suitable crops based on the soil, water and air conditions in their respective areas. They also provide necessary training and planting materials to support the transition,” Bagban said. The transition to cultivate medicinal plants has revitalised the farmers' fields and provided a new sense of hope to the community. Over 3,000 farmers in the Chenab region of Jammu and Kashmir have already transitioned to growing herbs and aromatic plants, with 2,500 of them located in Bhaderwah alone, the officials said.
“Earlier, we tried dogs to scare away monkeys and even used air gun,” said farmer Naveed Butt of Sartingal village.
“But it was difficult to keep away the monkeys and we were about to abandon farming. But switching from traditional maize to cultivation of medicinal plants for the past two years has kept the predators at bay. Besides, we are hoping to reap in good benefits,” Butt added.
The monkey population has increased after the central government banned their export for biomedical research in 1978. The problem is further exacerbated by the reverence and feeding of monkeys by many people. However, the impact of these marauding monkeys is most keenly felt in hilly regions like the Chenab region in Jammu and Kashmir due to the depletion of forest cover.
“Guarding the crop round the clock poses a challenge, especially when our fields aren't close to home,” said Shabnam Begum (52), a farmer from Qahi village.
“We were dejected as we are totally dependent on farming. We have found a new hope by switching to medicinal plants. AYUSH has given us a new hope as our fields have become again green after two years,” she added.