Chili Peppers Turn Farmers into Conservationists

About the Author

Mayu was Director of Content and Messaging for African Wildlife Foundation, responsible for AWF's print and online content, collateral and overall organizational messaging. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and has nearly 20 years' experience in communications,… More

Chili Peppers

Grace Kipwola is solely responsible for supporting her six kids, including paying school fees for two in secondary school. But elephants made it difficult for the Ugandan farmer to earn a steady income.

When it’s harvest season, elephants from nearby Murchison Falls National Park raid village farmlands to snack on rice and maize. “If I had a spear, I would probably have killed them,” Kipwola admits. “But now, I have no problems with them.”

What prompted her attitude change? Kipwola joined an agricultural project being implemented by the Uganda Wildlife Authority and AWF under the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)/Uganda Biodiversity Program. The project provides support to farmers to grow chili peppers.

Drought-resistant Chilies

Less than an inch long, these chilies pack a punch. They repel elephants, which do not like their spicy smell. “When elephants see the chili plants, they turn away and leave,” says Alex Ojera Sedele, chairman of the farmers group growing the chilies.

The drought-resistant chilies also bring in six times more money than maize. Companies buy the chilies to make hot sauce. The Uganda Wildlife Authority purchases them to help other communities combat human–elephant conflict: Dried chilies are used to make bricks that, when lit, produce stinging smoke that drives away elephants.

“Life has not been easy since the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency,” says Sedele. “We were forced to leave our homes and could not pay our children’s school fees. But we are seeing that, if our own children are not educated, they, too, will have issues with wildlife.” Through the chili project, farmers like Kipwola can simultaneously live alongside wildlife and gain an income to educate their children.