Mauritius at War with Bat(man)

Over the past few weeks, authorities have declared, as vermin the Bat(man) that is in conflict with humans, particularly farmers.

The Ministry of Agro Industry and Food Security has launched a campaign to kill bats since 9 December, and this will last till 23 December. The Special Mobile Force (SMF) is leading the [killing] initiative on the front.

Since childhood I’ve had the notion that army officers and military men are the heroes of a country. Even Bollywood and Hollywood movies portrait them as super-men. Then can we safely say that our heroes are today at war with Bat(man)?

On Facebook, I saw my notifications escalating with invitations to sign petitions to stop the government from continuing this so-called blunder. Other angry souls didn’t miss the opportunity to create groups and pages in support of Bat(man), and to show their instinct. I earnestly wished Bat(man) could see how supportive and accommodating some Mauritians are on Facebook.

I agree that modern man shouldn’t tolerate the killing of bats. What I don’t agree with is the hypocrisy behind allowing selected animals (e.g. chicken, lamb, beef) to be killed for food, while some others (e.g. dog, horse, monkey…and today bat) to be protected. Why this favouritism and discrimination? Has modern man built any caste system or religion or superiority grouping for different animals?

I agree that we have killed around 18,000 bats last year and we are left with around 72,000 this year, and as human beings we are meant to have a pathetic and pitiable approach towards the happening. What I don’t agree with is the prejudice towards Mauritian farmers. Do you imagine how difficult it is to be a farmer in Mauritius in this modern era?

According to Statistics Mauritius (2014), the five main constraints reported by farmers of the household sector on the island are:

  1. Pests/Diseases (69%)
  2. Natural disaster (44%)
  3. Theft (34%)
  4. Unavailability of water (27%)
  5. High price of inputs (24%)

Furthermore, the struggle of farmers to just exist in the country is unmatchable to perhaps any other occupation. Resources like irrigation, mechanisation, chemical fertilizers, organic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and seeds are not that inexpensive. And profit, most of the time, is not above 10%.

Now, if we study the age structure of farmers, we can reckon that the majority of them fall in the age group of 40 years and over. The mean age of farmers works out to 53.3 years (Statistics Mauritius, 2014). Worldwide, the average age of farmers is about 60, including in developing countries, and most of them are poorly educated (The Guardian, 2014). Somehow, I wonder if the national food security is jeopardised by an old age time bomb?

Being a net food importing developing country, Mauritius imports most of its basic food commodities like wheat, rice, pulses, bovine meat, milk and edible oil. If the remaining small number of farmers on the island is not protected, that day isn’t far when Mauritius would not be producing any local vegetable or fruit.

On a more political note…By not fulfilling the extreme plea of Mauritian farmers—that of protecting their crops from bats—would the government afford to lose this vote bank? Though I sound misanthropic here, but it seems like it’s the best answer that the government can have because, when all’s said and done, Bat(man) wouldn’t come to politicians’ rescue during elections. That’s one of the biggest criteria on which policy-makers take their decisions. Yes, unfortunately!

I agree that bats shouldn’t be killed. But I also agree that farmers shouldn’t suffer. I don’t have a solution for this problem at my stage, given the limited resources I operate in. However I do believe there are many other alternatives that can be explored to remedy this dilemma.

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