The word fencing usually brings to mind a long cement wall surrounding a plot of land or barbed steel wires attached to granite pillars around the periphery of the land.
For a variety of reasons a small farm needs to be fenced. A fence marks the boundary of the farm and keeps away stray animals.
The investment for either constructing a wall or putting up steel wires is quite heavy. Small and marginal farmers cannot invest a huge sum for erecting such a fence.
Instead, Dr. G. Nammalvar, organic scientist suggests that farmers can grow crops around their lands as a live fence.
“People who go for natural way of farming prefer to have a live fence,” he said. Even if it takes two or three years to complete such a task, the monetary investment is less and the fence becomes a long lasting one.
Usually thorny plants are grown to make a live fence. For example bushes such as agave and cactus, creepers, and small shrubs (perennial bushes) are the most sought after ones. Besides, trees such as subabul and casuarina can also be planted as a live fence.
But does not a live fence occupy more space and require care?
“Yes, to an extent live fence does occupy some more space than concrete structures, but it also gives us wild vegetables which are more nutritious and medicinal than the regular cultivated crops. This cannot be got from steel wires or concrete walls,” explained Dr. Nammalvar. A perennial bio-fence with a width of 3 to 4 meters will be a boon to a farm. For example bamboo can be ideally used as live fence material.
After four or five years bamboo gives us building material for farm requirements and its leaves are a good fodder for cattle and goat.
“When we choose plants for bio-fencing it would be wise to choose multi purpose plants. Bio-fencing has one more role to play in the farming.
It can act as a wind breaker. During the summer months if the dry wind enters the farm the soil moisture is carried away.
“A wind breaker breaks the speed of the wind and reduces the heat. Like wise in the winter season it blocks the cold winds and saves the crop from damage due to frost, and reduces the damage from cyclones. Tree species such as subabul and casuarina, if closely planted, will form very good wind breakers.
“The best purpose of having a live fence is that it serves as a shelter belt. This provides shelter for wild animals such as squirrels, rats, mongoose, hares, foxes, and birds such as sparrow, cuckoo, mina, peacock, and wild chicken,” he explained.
These wild animals help the farmer in plant protection by eating the pests on plants and by adding micro nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, nitrogen and phosphorus.
Also they help in converting organic and inorganic substances into elements needed for the growth of cultivated and uncultivated plants, according to him.
“We should keep in mind that we would not walk into the shelter belt frequently to encourage the wild friends to come and nest inside.
“They will bring seeds of plants from far off places and their excreta brings new kinds of micro organisms to our soil,” said Dr. Nammalvar.
A good example of a live fence is at Kolunchi, centre for training and research on ecological food production located in Odugampatti village at a distance of 11 kilometers from Keeranur, Pudukkottai district.