Chillies ward off elephants

In rural parts of Africa, chillies are being used to keep elephants off cultivated land while also providing an income for the subsistence farmers.

In rural parts of Africa, where humans and elephants battle for access to the same land, chillies are working to distract the animals from causing carnage while serving as a cash crop for farmers.

Like thieves in the night, elephants in rural parts of Africa raid the crops of subsistence farmers located close to their habitat. Their nightly expeditions wreak havoc and threaten the livelihood of farmers and those dependent on the farmer’s yield. As this scene plays out in large parts of southern and eastern Africa each night, parties on either side of this food battle are losing ground, literally.

In raiding the crops, the elephants destroy plantations, damage homes or, in extreme cases, injure or kill people. The farmers, in turn, have to spend nights guarding their crops, a dangerous activity that leads to a loss in productivity. For the elephants, their habitat is continuously compressed as agriculture expands, forcing them onto the cultivated land.

For decades rural farmers have employed traditional methods for keeping the elephants at bay, including beating drums and burning fires. While these methods are less capital intensive and more environmentally friendly than chemical repellents, electric fencing and disturbance shooting, the effectiveness of these methods wane as elephants habituate to them. Central to effective elephant diversion strategies is the need for it to be easy to implement and managed by the farming community themselves.

Enter the Elephant Pepper Development Trust (EPDT), an elephant conservation project dedicated to managing the conflict between humans and elephants while striving to promote the livelihood of the farmers. The EPDT have found that planting chillies is the most effective and sustainable elephant diversion strategy currently known. Elephants are unable to tolerate the spicy herb. They won’t eat it and find its strong scent discomforting, thus steering clear of it.

More than simply using the chilies as an elephant scare tactic, the EPDT encourage farmers to grow chillies to sell to African Spices, a for-profit facilitator who sells the chillies on the domestic and international market. The chillies are also sold to Elephant Pepper, an organisation who works in collaboration with EPDT, where the dried herb is used as the key ingredient in their range of African spices and sauces.

In the interest of wildlife conservation and sustainable economic development, 10% of the profit from the sale of Elephant Pepper products gets reinvested in the EPDT to further its conservation work. With support from environmental and conservation agencies, the EPDT trains farmers to grow their own chillies and guides them in teaching other members in their communities to do the same.

Elephant Pepper Development Trust’s chilli solution is a welcome alternative to injuring or killing the animals while creating a feasible economic model that the affected farmers can benefit from.