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Key to elephant conservation is ’in the sauce’


Fiery chillies keep elephants out of crops and make a great sauce, African entrepreneurs say

What do hot sauce aficionados and African elephants have in common? They both feel the burn of chilli peppers, the key ingredient for resolving human-elephant conflicts in Africa while raising money for farmers and conservation.

Supported by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and other groups, the Elephant Pepper Development Trust (EPDT) has not only promoted the use of chilli peppers as a means of keeping elephants, buffalo, and other species away from important sources of human food, but has also introduced a viable cash crop to the economy of African nations.

"Chilli peppers are unpalatable to crop-raiding mammals, so they give farmers an economically feasible means of minimizing damage to their investments," said Loki Osborn, project director for the EPDT. "They can be grown as buffer crops to prevent crop-raiding and then be harvested and sold on the world market through the trust."

Osborn originated the idea of Elephant Pepper in 1997, when he found that chilli peppers could be used as a means of stopping elephants from destroying crops in the Zambezi Valley, which straddles the borders of Zimbabwe and Zambia. While electric fences and other deterrents are prohibitively expensive, chillies provide farmers with a cost-effective means of warding off the elephants without inflicting them with permanent damage.

Specifically, farmers use chilli peppers to deter potential crop raiders in two ways: as a protective buffer crop to surround core crops of maize, sorghum and millet; and as an ingredient in a spray to drive away animals.

In addition, chillies are currently being used in the production of bottled hot sauces, jams and relishes. Proceeds from these products are donated to the trust to support to the development of chilli growing projects.

"This is a highly creative and effective way to solve a growing problem across the African landscape," said Dr. James Deutsch, director of WCS’ Africa Program. "With the growth of human populations in the Zambezi Valley and beyond, people and wildlife come into more frequent contact than before. Elephant Pepper products are a working example of how the survival of elephants can be reconciled with the livelihoods of farmers."

Since its founding, the Elephant Pepper Development Trust has served up to 250 farmers in the valley, and in 2003, the trust was awarded a $108,000 grant from the World Bank. The trust also formed two companies, the African Spices Company in Zambia, and the Chilli Pepper Company in Zimbabwe. Due to social and economic unrest currently raging in Zimbabwe, the trust’s operations there have ceased, opting instead to continue production in Johannesburg, South Africa.

John Delaney | EurekAlert!
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