Farmers in India’s northern state of Himachal Pradesh are now growing herbs instead of traditional crops such as rice, wheat and corn. They are trying to save their farms from monkeys eating their crops.
For years, farmers have fought a losing battle with increasing numbers of the red-faced rhesus macaques. The animals invade farms in several northern Indian states, searching for food and destroying crops worth millions of dollars.
Many have given up on farming because of the monkey problem. Officials estimate that 40 percent of the farmland in the area is unplanted.
Agriculture experts say switching to herbs will protect farmers’ crops and bring higher profits.
Monkeys do not attack crops such as aloe vera, an herb with medicinal properties. Farmers can make more money as demand for herbs increases from Indian companies making medicinal and personal care products. India’s herbal product industry is worth $4 billion and growing quickly.
Arun Chandan is regional director at the National Medicinal Plants Board for North India. He told VOA, “We teach farmers the kind of crop they can grow according to the soil, the water and air in that area, what market exists for it and how he can increase his income by two or three times...”
Some farmers have already starting planting herbs with help from the medicinal plants board. The group provides planting material and training. Farmer Bipin Kumar in Magroo village says he has planted aloe vera, stevia and lemon grass. He now plans to expand to other herbs.
He added that the herbs survive even in relatively drier soils and are not damaged by dense fog that is common in the hills.
Experts have listed about 100 herbs that can be grown on the empty farmland where villagers stopped growing crops.
So far, nearly 4,000 farmers have switched to growing herbs in seven North Indian states. In Himachal Pradesh, the number is 300.
Arun Chandan says the most successful farmers have strong business sense and are willing to innovate. His organization also links farmers in distant villages with possible buyers to make sure they can market their crops.
Monkeys are also becoming problems in cities, including India’s capital New Delhi. They are famous for stealing food and even mobile phones.
In December, experts gave lawmakers advice on dealing with monkeys often seen around parliament. The experts advised leaving the animals alone and not making eye contact.
The monkey population has increased since India banned their export for biomedical research in 1978.
But many in Hindu-majority India respect and feed the animals. They link the monkeys to the Hindu god Hanuman, who takes the form of a monkey.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Words in This Story
according to – prep. as stated, reported, or recorded by someone or something; in a way that is based on something
innovate – v. to do something in a new way; to have new ideas about how something can be done