In 2009/10 Born Free provided support for a local NGO, the National Environmental Forum, to launch a project to promote the farming of Elephant Resistant Crops (ERCs). The project, run in Pallegama in Central Sri Lanka, is intended to provide local farmers with an economic buffer to their annual income loss for elephant crop depredation. By growing crops that elephants do not eat, they ensure that even in the face of persistent elephant raids, they will still have a secure income to rely on.
The detailed picture of Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) varies with the geographical region, and likewise the viable crops that elephants do not feed on differs according to location. Initial research revealed around 10 cash crops as elephant-resistant, and the crops with the best local income were selected for cultivation.
The farmers who took part in the project were able to have a good harvest and thus a good income after the first year (mid 2010). Except for about 5% crop damage from trampling by elephants, these crops showed no signs of being selectively damaged or eaten by elephants. More local farmers are now keen to try establishing ERCs after seeing the project results.
We felt that sharing this experience with the HEC affected communities locally, regionally and perhaps internationally would help both the parties of conflict (humans and elephants!). We developed a proposal for making an advocacy film, which resulted in the production of Thibbatu : A deterrent berry. The Organization for Visual Progression (OVP) – a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing individuals and organizations working for social justice with opportunities to create and utilize visual media in their campaigns – provided the technical support (www.visualprogression.org).
Thibbatu (Solunum violaceum ortega) was one of the crops found to be elephant resistant following the initial research. This berry vegetable has a good, stable income year round. Being a crop that can be easily propagated and needs limited attention to cultivate, thibbatu is favoured by the local farmers.
See the video below