Elephants, Farming and the Pepper Company
Elephants can cause widespread damage to food crops and compete with communities for land and resources. The conversion of woodland to farmland threatens the elephant's survival thus managing agriculture and elephants within the same area presents a complex problem.
Subsistence farmers have many different traditional methods for protecting crops including beating drums, cracking whips, burning fires and a variety of other noise making devices. More recent methods include electric fencing, chemical repellents, and disturbance shooting. These approaches have had some success but have maintenance problems and high capital costs. The effectiveness of traditional methods diminishes over time as elephants habituate to them.
Methods for crop protection need to be financially and technologically within the capacities of the people implementing them if they are to provide long-term solutions. Community-based options for crop protection have good potential for sustainability, because they are co-developed with the farmers, and utilise locally available resources.
Connected Conservation (then Elephant Pepper Development Trust; EPDT) developed a suite of ‘low-tech’ methods that individual farmers could implement to deter elephants from raiding crops. Specific methods are available in the Community Based Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) Mitigation manual that was largely developed by F. V. "Loki" Osborn. The logic was to raise the cost of entering a field for elephants by harassing them with non-harmful methods to which they were unlikely to habituate.
One method of deterrent is the use of hot chillies which are used as barrier plants or to intensify other methods of deterrent. Chillies irritate elephants providing an unpleasant experience such that the elephant will move on to other areas. By growing chillies and using them as a deterrent, farmers were able to defend themselves, but they were not any better off than if they had been living in an area with no elephants.
Rural farmers bear the costs of living with elephants. Even where community-based conservation initiatives exist, and elephants generate large revenues, little of the money filters down to the rural household level. Purchasing chillies from farmers who participate in the conservation efforts encourages compliance with mitigation measures and provides cash directly to the farmer.
Elephant Pepper assists in the sales and development of high end consumer products from chillies and other products (such as Baobab and Marula fruit) purchased from farmers.
At a local level, community-based HEC mitigation guidelines allow the continuation of farming and while encouraging conservation. However, at a regional level human settlement patterns must be addressed if long term and lasting solutions are to be found for elephant conservation.