using a novel ‘game theory’ based approach:
For the first time in my blog, I am making an appeal to contribute to crowd funding to support the pilot implementation of a novel scientific concept that has a direct application to solve a major problem in human-wildlife conflict. We play here a game with real money which solves a real life problem!!
The problem: In India, with its high population density and rich wildlife, there are large areas of inevitable human-wildlife co-existence. Strengthening agriculture in and around protected areas boosts conservation since it reduces people’s direct dependence on forest resources. Therefore farmer support needs to be a high priority conservation action. A major but largely overlooked problem is crop damage by wild herbivores. While compensating farmers for the damage caused by wild animals is an accepted principle in India, the process of assessing and compensating damage is fraught with a large number of practical difficulties and therefore has been ineffective.
A Novel solution: We came up with an alternative to traditional concept of compensation with a novel game theory based concept called “support cum reward” (SuR). The SuR amount to be paid to farmers is calculated as percentage based on the average loss in productivity over a group of farmers. Each farmer receives SuR as the percentage on his own productivity. Therefore while each farmer is supported by the average, a farmer showing high productivity in spite of the damage gets a higher reward. The data are self reported by farmers and endorsed by neighboring farmers. The unique game theory components ensure that honest self-reporting gets maximum returns. Since honest behavior is the most selfish behavior, there is little chance of anyone defecting from cooperation. This is a new game that is immune to cheating by any variant behavior. As a result the entire process can be automated through farmer friendly mobile apps so that the system becomes community operated with little need for central administration, auditing or policing. The design of the system has several built-in features of cross verifying data, automated detection and prevention of fraud, self-auditing and self-correcting.
A Prior small scale trial: SuR was implemented on a small scale (75 farmers) for three years in which the average farmer’s productivity increased over 2.5 fold. In this trial the SuR inputs of Rs 1.6 million increased the productivity by about Rs. 7 million. This phase of research was funded by Vidarbh Development Board, DeFries Bajpai Foundatin and NAAM foundation. This concept is appreciated in the scientific world as reflected by publication in one of the top journals in the field, and an international award by the Society for Conservation Biology.
Towards scale up: Now, the Forest Department of Maharashtra, has shown interest in conducting a medium scale pilot trial for 8 to 10 villages near Tadoba. We have signed a MoU with the Field Director TATR and the executive director of Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve Conservation Foundation. While the foundation takes the responsibility of managing the finance and partially funding the pilot, we still need to raise over Rs. 1.5 crore through crowd funding, CSR and other means. The medium scale implementation will pave the way for the Government to adopt a new policy to handle human-wildlife interaction.
Why citizen science: The nature of research is difficult to fit in the bureaucratic systems of Indian Institutions and universities going by my prior experience. Therefore myself and my team will work independently in collaboration with the farmers on the one hand and the Foundation on the other. This is a unique example of doing high quality science with direct community involvement, establishing a non-institutional model of doing science. Beyond handling people’s problem it is an attempt to raise an alternative model in which farmers including the illiterate ones turn into researchers and address their own problems themselves. It is not about ‘taking’ science to people it is about doing science with people. Personally for me, this is going to be perhaps my career best science. You can donate starting from a few hundred dollars of few thousand rupees (no upper limit) at the link- https://mytadoba.org/donations/. Remember to go to the “other” option in the Type of donation window and write “For farmer support cum reward (SuR) fund”.
For more detailed information about SuR see links-