Chilli pepper initiative rescues farmer

| September 3, 2015

After many years of fighting a protracted battle against human/wildlife conflict, the government has come up with innovative measures to mitigate the impact.

The conflicts are mainly confined to the Ngamiland and Chobe areas, which have large numbers of elephants. Crop raiding by elephants is the most prevalent form of human/elephant conflict and can result in devastating economic losses for farmers, loss of human life and the killing of elephants.

One intervention that the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) has come up with is the use of chilli pepper to deter elephants from entering ploughing fields. The method is cheaper in comparison to other animal control methods such as the erection of electric fences and shooting to scare away the animals.

This is the method that a farmer at Samedupi, some 15 kilometres from Maun in the Ngamiland District, Ms Batsholelwang Fanabe has embraced after elephants terrorised her field for many years, reducing her harvest to nothing.

She sings praises of the method as it has worked deterred elephants from her field. She is also making money selling the product. She and her three children, who are all unemployed, survived on the produce of her farm as she has practiced dry farming since 2007.

Although she struggled to look after her family, Ms Fanabe explained in an interview that she managed to put bread on the table through her field produce.

All that changed in 2012 when elephants raided her ploughing field and destroyed all her ripe crops overnight. Ms Fanabe and other villagers had no means of chasing away the elephants which continued to terrorise them. Some families would sleep in thatched shelters in their fields with lit fire while others would beat drums in an attempt to scare the elephants away, but elephants would ignore their efforts and continue raiding crops.

Every year her harvest was low even with good rains. She reported the damages to DWNP in 2013. She was however not compensated for the damage.

The only advice from one of the officers, she recalls, was that she should grow chilli pepper as it has been proven to be an effective method to deter elephants.

“I was given some chilli pepper to plant and I am proud to testify that it has worked wonders since then. Together with other subsistence farmers, we developed a simple but effective elephant deterrent and smeared the field fences with chilli pepper grease and no elephants came near our fields ever since,” she added.

Ms Fanabe said another way of using the chilli pepper was to make chilli pepper dung bricks, where she mixes ground dried chillies with fresh elephant or cow dung and then dries the mixture to make briquettes that could be burnt to produce a noxious smoke.

Since the chilli pepper method seemed effective, she approached the DWNP officers and made an arrangement to allocate them one hectare from her 4.7-hectare field so that they could plough more chilli pepper and use it as a demonstration site for other farmers in the district.

Ms Fanabe said she and other farmers shared the pepper they harvested and she started selling hers; one brick at P60 while a cup of ground chillies goes for P10.

She enjoys the market at some villages such as Tsau, Nokaneng, Moreomaoto and Madikolo, especially for the chilli pepper bricks. She also explained that DWNP was giving her support by supplying her with water and some seeds for the success of the project.

Ms Fanabe explained that chilli pepper was easy to grow, noting that one has to give it plenty of time to ripe before the end of summer. Normally after harvesting she makes the seedbed and transplants the seedlings to the farm. She said chilli pepper plants could live up to 10 years if well watered.

Meanwhile, Ms Fanabe has changed the land use of the remaining 3.7 hectares of her field into a commercial plot, which now has a lease and title deed. Her dream is to find an investor, who could construct a stopover truck bay for her and then allocate him/her a piece to build either a filling station, motel or a ware house.

An official from DWNP, Mr Khura Nato confirmed their partnership with Ms Fanabe since 2013 for the production of chilli pepper, noting that initially they were buying processed one from Zambia.

“We have signed a two-year Memorandum of Agreement with Ms Fanabe to use part of her field as a demonstration site for chilli pepper ploughing.

The contract is subject to renewal if the partnership produces expected results,” he added. He said the partnership was more like a pilot project and stated that chilli pepper had proven to be an effected method of chasing elephants in such countries as Zambia where farmers plant it around their fields.

He said the department does not fund the project, but assists where necessary, adding that the department has engaged cluster members to join Ms Fanabe and work at the farm under the Ipelegeng programme.

Mr Nato also revealed that his office had also provided some farming equipment, seeds, water and labour. In addition, he said one term of the agreement was that the two parties share the harvest equally so that the department would distribute its share to farmers for free.

The partners have already enjoyed the first yield as they shared 50kg of the pepper.

Mr Nato also said to address challenges at the farm, the department has extended a helping hand from Okavango project, which is one of the means the government has employed to mitigate human/wildlife conflict. The project, dubbed the Northern Botswana Human/Wildlife co-existence project, was piloted in Seronga.

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