Full community engagement, reducing access to food and shelter and direct killing is the best way to manage rodent populations
Rodents like rats and mice may be small, but they have a great impact on our health, welfare and food security. Despite their harmful effects, development policies have overlooked the management of these species. Ecologically based rodent management (EBRM) can be a solution to rodent issues in rural India.
In an age where agricultural technology has evolved impressively, farmers often still need help when it comes to rodents. It is estimated that over 400 million people suffer from rodent-related diseases such as Lassa fever, plague, leptospirosis, typhus and hantaviruses every year.
Read more: Climate change may aid spread of Lassa fever from west to east Africa by 2070: Report
During rodent outbreaks, agricultural losses can skyrocket up to 100 per cent, with major cereal and horticultural crops experiencing chronic global damages estimated at 5-25 per cent. Effective rodent management could provide enough cereals and crops to nourish an extra 279 million people worldwide.
Rodents often affect the most vulnerable and marginalised in society as their housing and storage are made of material that is easily breached. For low-income families, rodent damage can result in a loss of income equivalent to 2-3 months’ worth of food.
This affects both men and women, but losses in certain crops, such as stored products and home-garden vegetables, profoundly impact women’s livelihood. It is time to bring this overlooked issue to the forefront and start taking action to keep rodents under control.
Food contamination and damage to houses caused by rodents. Photos: Luwieke Bosma, Anushree Mitra, Dikhyani Konwar, Poulomi Mallick and Saroj Yakami, Author provided
Zooming in on Madhya Pradesh, similar rodent problems can be found in homesteads and fields. Villagers from Dhamanpani, Kumharra, Dudhera and Paudi reported frequent damage, especially during harvest time for the Kharif (June-November) and Rabi crops (January-April).
In houses, rodents damage clothes, papers, electric wires, floors, unbaked walls, plastic drums and food containers. In the fields, it is reported that rodents damage 25 per cent of the crops on average.
Rodents mainly head for the soft and juicy seedlings of pulses, climb to the top of maize plants to snack on the sweet cobs, or eat the stored leafy vegetables.
The absolute favourite is paddy rice, which they will eat at any growth stage, though harvest time is when most of rodent damage occurs as then the water in the field has dried up.
Read more: Locust attack: India faces worst-ever pest invasion
Rodent populations have grown significantly ever since growers switched to paddy cultivation, according to farmers. Though wheat isn’t as commonly grown, rodents also have a special affinity for it, waiting until the seeds start coming out to feast.
Rat-induced damage to millet and finger millet is considerably lower compared with rice, another reason to promote this highly nutritious crop.
These rodents need two things to thrive: Food and a place to hide from predators. In many villages, there is an abundance of both. Soil and stone bunds provide both shelter and direct access to crops. Rats can also be found in vacant and residential houses, where they can gnaw through walls and floors.
Rodents thus lead to huge losses in Indian rural villages, often even more prominent than losses by other factors.
The good news is that EBRM can prevent rodents from accessing food and shelter. We can integrate EBRM into regenerative agriculture approaches to embed it in common farming systems, making it a routine activity.
Currently, the primary control method used is the application of chemical synthetic rodenticides mixed with rice or tomato to attract rats to eat it. But rodents are clever and quickly learn to avoid the poison.
Rodents also build resistance as the poison is applied in small amounts, making them sick but not killing them. Other traditional methods used by farmers in India are
- Close or clog rat holes with stones in the field. This helps occasionally, but most rats find a way out.
- Using a catapult to hit rats that stay under the roof.
- Hunting and catching the rats and eating them.
- Smoking the rats out of the burrow and then trapping / killing the ones that come out.
- Using a bucket trap.
These methods are somewhat effective, but rodents remain a large issue. Especially because most control methods are done individually, allowing rats a chance to move to the neighbouring house or field and quickly recuperate.
Read more: Warming temperatures increasing pest attacks, reducing yield, claim Rajasthan farmers
Integrating effective traditional methods, combined with a focus on collective campaigns, will better control rodents and improve agricultural production and village health.
In EBRM, the first step is to prevent the surge of rodent populations by managing the local environment so that rodent populations never grow beyond tolerance levels.
This means controlling access to food and water, reducing shelters and preventing migration. For example, keeping storage and household areas clean and preventing rodents from entering and destroying their habitats to ensure they have no place to hide.
The second step is to control. In the case of rodent infestations, the population can be reduced by using natural predators like installing perches and nest boxes in the fields to attract raptor birds; mechanical measures like trap barrier systems and by applying bio-rodenticides.
Bio-rodenticides have botanical ingredients that can control rodents without harming the environment.
Examples of rodent-proof storage structures: raised on poles and placing metallic discs on the poles. Photos: Luwieke Bosma, Anushree Mitra, Dikhyani Konwar, Poulomi Mallick and Saroj Yakami, Author provided
To effectively manage rodents, timing is critical. The best time to implement control measures is during the lean season when rat populations are lower, vegetation cover is sparse and rainfall is minimal.
By targeting weaker rats before the rainy season starts, you can prevent them from reproducing and significantly reduce their numbers. Furthermore, involving everyone in the community is essential, as rodents can only be controlled if all efforts are collective.
Combining multiple control methods is also crucial, as rodents are clever and can learn to avoid measures against them; outwitting them is key.
Read more: At least 40% global crops lost to pests every year: FAO
So, a multi-faceted approach that includes full community engagement, reducing access to food and shelter and direct killing is the best way to manage rodent populations.
EBRM methods are a low-cost, effective alternative to curb rodent populations. You can learn more about EBRM by emailing Luwieke Bosma at firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting www.rodentgreen.com.
Anushree Mitra is junior project officer with MetaMeta Research and is working on ecologically based rodent management and regenerative agriculture; Luwieke Bosma is programme manager at MetaMeta Research and is working on ecological rodent pest management in agriculture among other subjects; Poulomi Mallick is a Social Development Practitioner with Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN); Saroj Yakami is a water resources management specialist and country representative of MetaMeta Research in Nepal and Dikhyani Konwar is an executive in Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN) in Madhya Pradesh
Views expressed are the authors’ own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth
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