Thanks to an absence of pesticides Eastern sarus cranes are common again in an area from where they were driven extinct.
Organic farming is a sustainable practice that can help the environment beyond the boundaries of organic farms. This statement may sound like stating the obvious. Actually, though, tangible examples of how successful organic farming can be at wildlife protection are not always available.
That can be a problem when you want to convince local farmers to adopt the practice of organic farming, which may result in lower crop yields in some cases.
Take the case of Thailand. In the Southeast Asian country herbicides and pesticides are extensively and intensively used in agriculture. In 2009, Thailand was listed among the top five countries that utilize artificial herbicides and pesticides by the Food and Agriculture Organization.
There are two groups of chemicals generally used at farms: organophosphates and carbamates. Even though residues of these two chemicals take a reasonably short period of time to decompose, they can adversely affect human health. The toxins in them can impede the effectiveness of a vital enzyme, which can cause muscle pain, headaches, exhaustion, seizures or even death.
According to the country’s National Health Security Office (NHSO) in three years between 2016 and 2018 there were 1,715 recorded deaths from the use of such toxins while another 5,000 people got sick on average each year. Many other cases are likely to have gone unreported. These figures confirm that artificial substances like these can cause a health crisis in Thailand.
However, issues of health and sustainability are not only about human beings. Our egocentric tendency often blindfolds us and we are inclined to neglect other species. Herbicides and pesticides can accumulate in the soil, which has been linked with sickening animals and damaging their habitats.
In a part of Thailand, however, efforts are underway to change that. Eastern sarus cranes are birds with what appear like red ski masks. They are common once again in rice fields around Buriram, a city in rural northeast Thailand. That is because since 2011 several dozen cranes have been reintroduced into the area after they went extinct there in the 1980s. Many factors, including habitat destruction and excessive pesticide use, caused the disappearance of these majestic birds from the area.
Eastern sarus cranes are omnivorous and search for food and prey in wetlands. Their main diet consists of aquatic plants, grains, as well as invertebrates and insects. The birds’ reintroduction has been conducted at natural wetlands that fall within a Non-Hunting Area with a reservoir.
This non-hunting area is sizeable, but the birds need fare more space to forage for food. As a result, the surrounding rice paddies must serve as their habitats, which needs to be taken into account when it comes to conservation efforts. Therefore, the vital stakeholders of this conservation project need to include local farmers who own those paddies.
As Eastern sarus cranes need to inhabit areas where there is an absence of toxic chemicals like pesticides, conservation organizations have asked local farmers to collaborate and switch to organic farming. Thus this sustainable practice does not only help people to stay healthy safe but it can also help protect endangered species.
This does not mean, however, that there has already been a happy ending. The cranes will need to be protected in coming years and decades by conservationists and local farmers alike.
“Within the identified areas in Buriram, the reintroduced cranes remain vulnerable to threats including: habitat destruction, degradation and disturbance, excessive pesticide use, hunting and accidental injuries,” the United Nations Development Programme notes.
“These threats have already had an impact on the reintroduction programme, resulting in a 60 to 70 percent survival rate,” the UNDP adds. “A changing climate also presents a threat to the national population of Eastern Sarus cranes. Increased periods of drought results in higher pressure on key water reservoir areas, causing water levels to drop and wetland habitats to degrade.”
Having said that, projects like these can lead us towards more sustainable forms of agriculture that can have a marked positive impact on wildlife in surrounding areas.