Issuing firearms to farmers - another short-sighted decision?

May 29 2023. views 67

Farmers in rural areas continue to suffer losses due to irreversible crop damage mainly caused by wild animals. Even though wild animals such as peacocks, wild boar, toque macaques are now perceived as pests, it is humans who have encroached into their habitats. While there have been no proper studies done regarding the extent of crop damage caused by the aforementioned animals, various attempts have been made to ‘wipe out’ animal populations as means of paying heed to farmers’ requests; one of them being the issuance of firearms to farmers.  However, after much protests and interventions from the wildlife community, certain decisions such as culling excess animal populations were revoked. 

Weaponising farmers 
Successive governments have thought that the issuance of firearms to farmers would be the most appropriate remedy for crop damage. But, given the escalating rate of crime in the country, the issuance of firearms to untrained civilians has been questioned. Back in 2021, subject minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage brought forth a proposal to issue firearms to farmers who own more than one acre of land. But the law has now been amended so as to issue firearms to farmers who own more than five acres of land. 

An ineffective solution?
However, farmer organisations are of the view that this is quite an ineffective solution. “Firearms were issued even when S.M Chandrasena was serving as the Minister of Agrarian Services and Wildlife back in 2011,” said Namal Karunaratne, National Organiser of the All Ceylon Agrarian Federation. “The solution to crop damage is not the issuance of firearms. There are scientific methods with which crop damage could be minimised. Food and water are two basic needs of any wild animal. So as long as they have access to food and water there won’t be an issue for humans.”

“There are around 6500 elephants in the country but there are over 1.8 million cows. But have we heard of a human-cow conflict in Sri Lanka? No. This is because these animals have respective owners. Therefore the state owns all animals in the wild. If animals owned by humans cannot be neglected, the same applies to animals owned by the state,” Karunaratne explained. 

He further said that Sri Lanka’s forest cover is around 16% and that most forest environments are no longer suitable for animals. “I recently visited the Kahalla forest reserve and it has been taken over by many invasive species. Animals don’t feed on invasive species. On the other hand there are many lakes in this reserve but they don’t have sluice gates. This means that these lakes cannot be used for agriculture purposes. Many of these lakes begin from catchment areas but these catchment ecosystems have now been destroyed. As a result, the lakes too have been destroyed.”

Some of the solutions include the removal of invasive species and spraying seedlings of various types of grains which animals feed on. “An elephant needs around 150kg of food and around 25 gallons of water per day. Elephants feed on a special type of grass called ‘Beru’. If the government could plant this type of grass in forest reserves and open patches of land, elephants will no longer be marauding villages in search of food.”
He further said that the Tourism industry earns a good income by promoting Sri Lanka’s elephants and wildlife. “Perhaps the Tourism Authority could allocate a certain amount of money from its income to maintain habitats of wild animals as means of minimising the human-wildlife conflict,” he added.

A safety mechanism is in place : State Defence Minister
“This programme was halted for awhile but we have considered issuing firearms to farmers given that the extent of land they own is more than five acres,” said State Minister of Defence Pramitha Bandara Tennakoon. “The circular issued earlier was not practical but the new circular has been issued to respective Grama Niladhari offices and Divisional Secretariats.”

He further said that there’s a huge demand for firearms due to crop damage experienced by farmers. “We do have a safety mechanism in place and there’s an application form to be filled. Once it has been filled, the Grama Niladhari or the DS office will submit it to the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry will assess the eligibility of the applicant prior to issuing the firearm,” Tennakoon added.            


Kamanthi Wickramasinghe

A psychology graduate who eventually became a journalist to be a voice for unheard voices. A proud Sri Lankan - Thalassophile - Travel fan - Nature lover - Chocoholic - Extraordinarily loud - Frequent laughaholic. Follow me on Instagram - @kamzylifeTM or FB – Kamanthi Wickramasinghe


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