This is the first blog out of two where we will learn about rodent characteristics in four villages in Madhya Pradesh, India. The people in these villages taught us about the rodent species and how these small mammals damage crops at an average 25%. In the next blog we will dive deeper into rodent management options. Seeking to understand the traditional systems and how Ecologically-Based Rodent Management methods could be integrated and by who.
Rodents are a major but often unseen problem in food systems. Despite rodents negatively impacting human health, welfare and food security, their management remains neglected by development policies. More than 400 million people are affected by rodent-associated pathogens (e.g., Lassa fever, plague, leptospirosis, typhus, hantaviruses) each year [1,2]. Field and post-harvest agricultural losses may reach 100% during rodent outbreaks, with chronic global crop damages estimated at 5-25% for major cereal and horticultural crops. Globally, an additional ~279 million people would be nourished with cereals gained from effective rodent management .
People adversely affected by rodent pests are often the poorest and most marginalised since their housing and storage are made of local material easily breached by rodents, and they have little access to knowledge and methods to manage rodents effectively. For low-income families, damage caused by rodents can amount to 2-3 months of food or a substantial loss of income and health. Men and women are both affected by rodent problems; however, some commodities and crops vulnerable to rodent attacks have a strong link to women’s livelihoods and source of income, particularly stored products and home-garden vegetables.
Box 1: Rat Facts
- Rats multiply quickly, from one pair of rats, 1250 rats can be born in one year.
- Rats greatly depend on the availability of good quality food and shelter to breed
- Rats all over the world cause 15-25% of damage to crops in the field and in store
- Rats usually move within 30-100 meters of their shelter each day, depending on food/mate availability.
- Rats play a role in the transmission of more than 60 types of diseases.
- Rats are very clever animals and can learn to avoid measures taken against them.
In India, major changes in agricultural systems have increased the rodent problem in recent decades. The major rodent pests prevalent are Bandicota bengalensis, Milardia meltada, and Mus booduga. It is reported that the overall losses of grain to rodents in India were approximately 25% in pre harvest and 25-30% in post harvest situations bringing the loss to at least US$ 5 billion annually in stored food and seed grain in India .
Generally, it is assumed that tribal communities in India had less incidence, due to predatory feeding habits by these communities, i.e. catching rats for food. However, based on anecdotal evidence this is doubtful, as people shared they can lose a quarter to half of their crops to rodents. Furthermore, we found there is a big gap in data and knowledge on rodents in the state of Madhya Pradesh.
Therefore we initiated 4 Knowledge Attitude Perceptions (KAP) semi-structured surveys in 4 different villages in Madhya Pradesh, to start closing the knowledge gaps. The KAPs were conducted in a Focus Group Discussions (FGD) setting with 10-20 village representatives, both men and women. The villages visited are Dhamanpani, Kumharra, Dudhera and Paudi; which are dominated by Gond and Baiga tribes. Their main livelihood sources are agriculture, non-timber forest produce, labour work and livestock rearing. Rats are considered a serious problem in all villages, both in homesteads and in fields.
Many different rodent species were identified by community, indicating the rich knowledge they have of these animals.
- The Tharela/Tareli rat (likely the Bandicota bengalensis, lesser bandicoot rat) was called the ‘boss of the rats’, the strongest rat around that can even fight snakes.. It is a large rat, lives alone, is active at night and weighs 250-500 grams. One animal itself can destroy 20% on a 10 decimal (1 acre = 100 decimal) land. It does not only eat whatever it cuts, it stores a lot of food in the burrows that can be up to 3 feet deep. Out of 100 cuts it may only eat 10, that other 90 is stored in the burrows.
- Kotheli species (likely the Indian gerbil, Tatera indica) is found in the forest, they live in groups, and are night-active. Its belly is white, the upper is light brown, with a white tail. They can make a very big hole and pierce holes in foundations of houses.
- Chaura (either soft furred field rat, Millardia meltada or Indian bush rat, Golunda ellioti) is also found in the forest and is night-active. They have a white tail, resemble Kotheli, but are a bit smaller in size. They live under small bushes.
- Gharwala, also called chuha (likely the house rat, Rattus rattus), the most common rat to see.
- Chote (likely a field mouse, Mus booduga, or house mouse, Mus musculus / Mus domesticus), very small in size but they can cut the stems of paddy rice.
- Other forest species include: Bhaisadal and Baanskata. Other species mentioned are: Gharuli, Ghuus (shrew, Suncus murinus), Bandrachote, and Chuchundar.
How much is the damage?
Frequent damage occurs both at home as well as at field, especially during harvest time for the Kharif (October-November) and Bari crop (March-April). During those times there is ample food available at the field, and in the storage. The household items that are damaged in all the houses include: clothes, papers, electric wires, floors, unbaked walls, plastic drums and food containers, and rats bite small chicks.