9 January 2005

Zimbabwe: Cheeky Chilli Chills Jumbos

CLOSE to 250 000 households in Zimbabwe, neighbouring Zambia and Mozambique can now defend their crops against rampaging elephants, thanks to a grant from the World Bank, which is introducing chilli cultivation in the southern African region.

Through a grant from the World Bank's Development Marketplace, the Elephant Pepper Development Trust (EPDT) is introducing a natural way to keep the animals away from the farms by cultivating chilli peppers that serve as a natural deterrent to elephant incursions. Chilli oil, when rubbed on a fence, becomes an ecologically friendly barrier.

The project is aimed at achieving a balanced co-existence in southern Africa's Mid-Zambezi Valley between subsistence farmers and wild animals, which for long has been risky.

The pilot project will enable farmers to defend their farms against predatory animals, instead of relying on government intervention, which has not been forthcoming.

EPDT is providing agronomic advice and grading training to prepare farmers to reap and grade the chillies once they are ripe.

EPDT has forged partnerships with CARE-Zambia, the African Wildlife Foundation, Chilli Pepper Company (CPC), and African Spices (Pvt) Ltd, Zambia to make the project commercially viable and sustainable. The National Geographic is planning a documentary about EPDT's work while other development organizations are replicating EPDT's business model for working with subsistence farmers in southern Africa

During the last 20 years, elephants have been hemmed in by the increasing number of people moving into the southern Africa's Mid-Zambezi Valley in search of arable land. As a result, the animals increasingly destroy crops as they roam and search for food. Fires, drum beating or hunting are temporary solutions that have failed to protect the crops from future raids, and are ecologically unsound. The long-term impact on the elephant population is not known according to the EPDT.

Besides, chillies are also a lucrative cash crop that can help raise farmers' incomes in the region.

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