Microfinancing and Technical Trainings Help Benin Farmer Get Ahead

Microfinancing and Technical Trainings Help Benin Farmer Get Ahead

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For the past 32 years, Marc Tasso, a cashew producer from the village of Gararou in northeastern Benin, has carefully worked to maintain his orchard. Over time, this task has become more arduous with difficulties in pruning the branches and weeding the floor affecting the quality and sustainability of his orchard, resulting in lower yields. His orchard soon became overgrown, limiting room for branches to fruit effectively and for crews to collect fallen nuts. To add to complications, any time or money put into rehabilitation and renovation initiatives—which are needed—would put serious strain on his livelihood since cashew production is his main source of income.

To support cashew producers in similar situations to Tasso, the USDA Food for Progress West Africa PRO-Cashew Project helps build capacity to rehabilitate and renovate their orchards. Through training sessions hosted by the Project, Tasso and other members from his community were able to learn about enhanced pruning techniques, how to identify aged cashew trees in need of replacement, proper spacing for planting, how to apply fertilizers most effectively and general maintenance and weeding best practices to facilitate the harvesting of fallen nuts. They also received financial skill building sessions focused on available financial services in their localities, personal financial management, financial management for agricultural domains, long-term financial planning, management of credit, risk management and insurance plans, knowledge of mobile money systems, e-security, financial security, networking and marketing, contractualization with cashew industry processors and gender dynamics in the cashew nut industry.

“My harvest was getting smaller and smaller as the trees got older,” Tasso said. “The trees were no longer producing at an ideal level. It was very difficult financially because the sale of cashew nuts brought me very little money, which made it even more difficult maintain my plantation and take care of my other needs.”

After consulting a Fédération Nationale des Producteurs d’Anacarde du Bénin (FENAPAB) agricultural adviser, working in partnership with the PRO-Cashew Project, Tasso was made aware of a plantation maintenance loan option available to him through PADME (Promotion et l’Appui au Développement des Micro-Entreprises), a microfinance institution in his village.

Marc Tasso on his cashew orchard.

From here, the adviser helped him file for the loan, and he was able to obtain $320 (200,000 FCFA) in credit. This allowed Tasso to hire professional service providers (PSP) trained by PRO-Cashew to help renovate his plantation. Among improvements, Tasso has spaced out his trees in the orchard to maximize production and rehabilitated older trees which are pruning to produce new yields. For others needing replacement, PRO-Cashew helped Tasso take advantage of a popular and successful program from the Government of Benin organized by their Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries called Programme National de Développement de la Filière Anacarde (PNDFA).  This program subsidizes close to 80% of the price per tree from approved nurseries sourcing high-quality plants with favorable traits that are climate resilient, have larger nuts and are known to be easier to transform. With PRO-Cashew having identified multiple of the government-approved nurseries in the region, the project subsidized close to $212 (132,000 FCFA) worth of trees, Tasso was able to obtain 220 grafted seedlings for only $35 (22,000 FCFA).

While waiting for his replacement cashew tress to produce their first harvest, Tasso intercropped his orchard with soybeans so that nitrogen fixation, a process designed to enrich the soil that supports the development of young cashew trees, could take place. This has already led to decent soy and cashew harvests which Tasso has been able to profit from—recovering a bit from last year’s financial hit due to weak yields.

“I’ve already harvested my soybeans and cashew nuts and I’ve repaid the loan and interest rate on time, thanks in large to the skills on cashew production I learned during the training course,” Tasso said. “My 7-hectare orchard, which used to produce barely a ton and a half of cashew nuts, has doubled its production thanks to the application of good agricultural practices such as weeding, pruning and, above all, the thinning that the PSP carried out in my field.”

As next steps, Tasso plans to increase his orchard’s production to five tons in the coming years, especially once all trees are fully productive. With more developments on the horizon still, Tasso’s income has already increased, making over $725 in sales (451,490 FCFA)—double the amount of his loan.

Once his new grafted seedlings start producing cashew nuts, Tasso will almost certainly be able to reach his production goals. With PRO-Cashew grafted seedlings taking three years to provide their first harvest—two years less than with conventional cashew seeds—these results are expected to happen sooner than later. Tasso is also working with Korosho, a PRO-Cashew grantee, to obtain agriculture certifications that will enable him to reach higher price points and reach international markets while upholding stronger standards of sustainability.

USAID Agriculture Program

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Overview:

The five-year, $23 million USAID Agriculture Program (2018-2023) works to accelerate the growth of agricultural sub-sectors that show strong potential to create jobs, improve incomes, and increase micro, small, and medium enterprise (MSME) revenues, with particular focus on the berry, culinary herb, stone fruit, perishable vegetable, pome fruit, table grape, mandarin and nut crop value chains.

To accomplish this, the Program facilitates partnerships with public and private sector actors and provides demand-driven technical assistance to farmers, agribusinesses and MSMEs in order to address value chain gaps and advance agricultural production and processing.

The Program also contains an integrated grant component to deliver cost-share grants to producers, processors, cooperatives, service/information/extension providers and associations. These grants are designed to address identified value chain gaps and develop agricultural sub-sectors, contributing to the sustainable development of the Georgian economy.

Program Approach:

  1. Increase productivity and productive capacity: The USAID Agriculture Program uses technical assistance to develop and update business plans, financial plans and market assessments, and provides competitive cost-share grants for medium-, small- and micro-enterprises (MSMEs), including producers, processors, service providers, cooperatives and associations.
  2. Build capacity to add value: The Program improves processing, storage and other techniques by providing training to farmers on production, harvesting and post-harvest techniques; and facilitates relationships between value-adding agribusinesses and smallholder or emerging commercial farmers.
  3. Meet international standards and certifications: The Program provides cost-share grants for MSMEs, facilitating market access to new domestic buyers and international markets and training producers and MSMEs on modern production and business operations.
  4. Strengthen linkages within agricultural value chains and to new markets: The Program encourages public-private partnerships by facilitating linkages and providing support to vocational education institutions, business service providers and enterprises to improve training curricula and access to private sector-led skills development opportunities. It also assists with developing business relationships and addressing financial institutions requirements to obtain capital for further growth.
  5. Strengthen capacity of cooperatives, extension and other service providers and associations: The Program facilitates the development and capacity building of business or sector associations; trains service and information providers on topics such as teaching methods, farmer outreach models and technical skills and knowledge; and supports dialog between extension providers, educational institutions and cooperatives to coordinate efforts to increase reach and effectiveness of extension.

Partners:

  1. South-East Europe Development (SEEDEV)
  2. World Food Logistics Organization (WFLO)

Cashew Cultivation: An Opportunity for a New Start

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Jean-Baptiste Bationo, a farmer from Bouaflé in central Côte d’Ivoire

Less than five years ago, Jean-Baptiste Bationo, a farmer from Bouaflé in central Côte d’Ivoire, had no experience growing cashews and instead grew cocoa, which he had cultivated for over 20 years. However, with the cacao swollen shoot virus (CSSV) devastating plantations across Côte d’Ivoire, Bationo’s harvests were affected, putting his operations in a tenuous situation. Bationo and farmers experiencing similar damage had to find a sustainable solution that would rid them of the CSSV problem and improve their activities for the long run.

This led Bationo to work with the USDA Food for Progress West Africa PRO-Cashew Project which offered to provide farmers with high-quality grafted seedlings as part of its cashew seedling initiative. This initiative aims to promote the expansion of trees with favorable traits such as larger nut sizes, resilience to climatic shifts and the ability to speed up the production of their first harvest, helping farmers increase their production and quality to be more competitive in local markets.

Seeing an opportunity to replace his virus-prone cacao with this new profitable crop, Bationo signed up to be shortlisted as a participant and eventually received 130 cashew seedlings from PRO-Cashew at a subsidized cost in 2022.

“I was very concerned, because I thought at the time [replacing my cacao plantation] was a huge loss for me,” Bationo said. “After all the effort I’d put into creating and growing my cacao plantation, I did not know what to do.”

For him, cashew planting was an ideal solution for replacing his cacao plantation. The grafted plants provided by PRO-Cashew are resistant to diseases and resilient to the effects of climate change. Additionally, cashew trees require less rainfall than cacao plantations.  Where cacao plantations require between 1,500-2,000 millimeters of rainfall annually, cashew trees only require 800-1,800 millimeters.[1][2]Finally, the grafted seedlings only take three years to produce their first harvest compared to the typical five years normal seedlings take, ensuring a quicker restart to his activities.

After taking advantage of the Agence Nationale d’Appui au Développement Rural (ANADER) governmental program that supports farmers with uprooting their cacao crops to eradicate CSSV at no cost to farmers, Bationo’s plantation was ready to start fresh with his new cashew venture.

A year into the restoration of his plantation, his new cashew seedlings were developing well. And while waiting for the crops to start producing, Bationo decided to intercrop bananas and casava within the plantation to bring in an additional source of income. As he continues transitioning to a new and more sustainable agricultural endeavor, he hopes to serve as a source of inspiration to other cacao growers experiencing CSSV by helping them convert to the fruitful cashew sector.

For producers looking to transition into or enhance their cashew production, PRO-Cashew supports them to access improved planting materials, connect with technical experts that enhance their operations and participate in workshops designed to strengthen their financial management. The Project also works to build linkages with market actors such as seedling retailers—including those connected to commercial nurseries established through public-private partnerships, farm renovation and rehabilitation providers and rural-based service providers to help farmers develop transition plans and receive tree cutting and pruning services. With these options available, farmers like Bationo have the opportunity to grow and thrive.

[1] https://www.icco.org/growing-cocoa/#:~:text=Trees%20are%20very%20sensitive%20to,should%20not%20exceed%20three%20months.

[2] https://agroivoire.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/ftec-anacardier.pdf

Empowering Agriculture and MSMEs: The Impact of the USAID Feed the Future Nigeria Agribusiness Investment Activity in Ebonyi State

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In Ebonyi State, southeastern Nigeria, a groundbreaking partnership between the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the Ministry of Business Development and the USAID Feed the Future Nigeria Agribusiness Investment Activity has sparked a remarkable transformation. Dr. Stephen Odo, the pioneer Honorable Commissioner for the Ministry of Business Development, spearheaded this collaboration, recognizing the crucial connection between agriculture and micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) development, and helped develop a digital portal in 2021. This portal serves as a central hub for information, processing loans, grant applications and even handling fund disbursement. By digitizing registration processes, the Ministry enabled cooperative societies to register online, and has since streamlined processes, reduced administrative bottlenecks and facilitated seamless updates and changes for registration of cooperative societies.

“The portal provides a comprehensive database accessible to farmers, cooperatives and MSMEs, with over 14,000 registered cooperative societies in Ebonyi State,” Odo said.

The impact of the portal in the last two years and the partnership with the Activity has been substantial. The portal further created ease of disbursement of funds to MSMEs by the Ebonyi State government’s NG-CARES program because all relevant information was already available through the portal, further bolstering support for agricultural businesses and ensuring financial accessibility and accountability.

The Impact of Technology and Collaboration in One Woman’s Farming Journey

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Over the years, Winifred Ifoma Elom, a farmer in Ebonyi State, Southeast Nigeria, has achieved tremendous success in rice production with the help of modern farming techniques. She started farming one to two hectares of land due to the limitations of manual labor. However, through a partnership with Hello Tractor, a company under the HIFAD umbrella, with support from USAID, she acquired a tractor. Through the USAID Feed the Future Nigeria Agribusiness Investment Activity, she was connected to Hello Tractor and provided training opportunities. The partnership with USAID and Hello Tractor helped modernize her farming practices, bridging the gap between traditional and mechanized agriculture.

With the introduction of the tractor, Elom expanded her farming operations from two hectares to an impressive 100 hectares of rice fields. Rice production has significantly increased, resulting in a surplus of rice and generating excess income for farmers. The impact on women in the Afikpo community in Ebonyi State has been particularly notable; they can now hire the tractor to ease their work. After supporting their family’s farm work, women can now quickly plant crops on their own farms using the tractor. What used to take them weeks can now be done more efficiently and effectively. The tractor has given women the chance to expand their farms and increase their income.

Elom believes that agriculture is the number one priority of life since food is essential for survival. “The money you seek is in agriculture,” she said. “And running away from it would be a waste of time.”

The demand for tractor services is high, and Elom’s company, Dumure Teketeke Global Ventures, caters to individuals, farm owners, small farmers, cooperatives and nearby villagers. They even serve clients outside their town, extending their reach to other states such as Cross River and Anambra.

“Because the tractor is primarily used during the farming season, there are peak times when the machine is in high demand, such as during land preparation, planting and harvest season,” Elom said.

She notes the need for additional machinery like rice harvesters to ensure timely and efficient harvesting, preventing the loss of mature rice.

Community Visioning Prioritizes Needs and Facilitates a Tangible Sense of Ownership

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In Matabeleland North, one of the driest and most food insecure regions in Zimbabwe, USAID’s Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (BHA)-funded Amalima Loko activity empowers communities to address and take ownership of their development priorities. In Daluka Village, Ward 19, Lupane, community leader Moven Ngwenya reflects on his community’s experience a year after the village started the Community Visioning (CV) process.

“Amalima Loko set us in motion,” said Ngwenya, whose village’s CV process kicked off in June 2021 with the planning and preparation stage, which involves a series of exercises for communities to identify their existing structures, assets and formal and informal capacities to inform local transformation plans at the village and ward level. During this stage, communities generate a range of resources, including a socio-economic map, community resource map, historical timeline, vulnerability matrix and seasonal calendar for crops and livestock.

“We took part in several discussions on long-term food security and resilience planning,” Ngwenya recalls of the planning and preparation stage. “We started with resource mapping, during which we were asked questions about how we lived, what we had and what a thriving community looked like,” he recounted. “When they asked us what a thriving community would look like, we realized immediately that we were onto something life-changing and that we had taken an important step towards creating something that would provide the community of Daluka with some tangible sense of ownership.”

Ngwenya recalled that during discussions, Amalima Loko staff worked with the CV participants to overcome differences in community priorities. “At first, we had competing needs,” he said. “Some wanted food, others water, while others wanted schools and bridges. We worked with Amalima Loko to rank and prioritize our needs.”

These discussions feed into a cohesive community vision, including goals and actionable steps, with a focus on resilience. In Daluka village, ultimately community discussions led to the prioritization of water access through drilling and rehabilitation of boreholes that can provide clean water for people and livestock.

“We identified access to water as an important and immediate need,” Ngwenya said. “We concluded with a concrete action plan at village and ward level, where we now have both short-term and long-term goals that we are striving to achieve in solidarity as a community.”

The Daluka Ward 19 Transformation Plan was finalized in December 2021, and set goals such that by 2030, community members, inclusive of all genders and abilities, will have access to adequate potable water, productive agriculture, market linkages, improved health and nutrition, education, inclusive skills development, natural resources management skills and  recreational services.

Ngwenya’s  community is now in the implementation stage of the CV process, where communities take actions to achieve the goals outlined in the transformation plans. Accomplishments to date include:

  • Ten boreholes in the watershed cluster rehabilitated with Amalima Loko support (two within Daluka Ward).
  • Five new boreholes targeted for construction in the watershed cluster (one within Daluka Ward) by Amalima Loko—currently at the solar installation stage.
  • One rehabilitated borehole completed by Mafinyela Village through collective action independent of Amalima Loko.
  • Gulley reclamation conservation works throughout the ward.
  • Rehabilitated feeder roads from Sibangani Village leading to major health facilities.

“The Community Visioning process under the Amalima Loko program has been a true turning point for the Daluka community,” Ngwenya said. “Amalima Loko came through with a Community Visioning approach which gave us direction and strengthened our voices to determine projects and set the pace at which we wanted this development to happen. I must say this was a welcome initiative.”

Amalima Loko is funded by the USAID Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance and implemented by CNFA. It is designed to improve food and nutrition security for more than 82,800 vulnerable households in rural Zimbabwe through increased food access and sustainable watershed management. The activity’s Community Visioning process has reached over 42,000 people of diverse genders, ages, abilities and social groups in more than 500 villages.

Preserving Food and Preserving Lives: Improving Income through Innovative Preservation Technologies

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Diakité Mariam Diarra is an agri-food processing entrepreneur from Koutiala, Mali, where she actively watched and helped her mother produce and sell home-made natural juices throughout her childhood.

“I decided to continue my mother’s passion in the field of food processing.” Diarra said. “However, my experience remained basic until 2014, when I received training provided by the the Support Fund for Vocational Training and Apprenticeship (Fond d’Appui à la Formation Professionnelle et à l’Apprentissage FAFPA).”

Since, she has been able to enhance her ability to market locally, as well as to Bamako. Her success led her to exploring export opportunities even, participating in the International Fair of Agriculture and Animal Resources (FIARA) fair in Senegal.

In 2022, Diarra started collaborating with the Feed the Future Mali Sugu Yiriwa activity through an Open Day Event organized in Koutiala, where she won first prize in the culinary contest and received a 100-kilogram gas drying machine. After this, her work with the Activity progressed, participating in other  trade events—both nationally and regionally—where she could sell her products and establish new business relationships.

“I attended several trainings that greatly improved my food processing skills which has enabled me to increase my income,” she said. “I particularly appreciated the session on good preservation practices for perishable products.”

Like other vendors in Sugu Yiriwa’s intervention zones, Diarra was facing significant waste of perishable products. With excessive use of fertilizers, frequent power cuts and high temperatures, the vegetables she bought would lose their freshness and quality over a period of two days, forcing her to get rid of the produce and bear financial losses.

According to statistics[1] from the diagnostic report of market garden production systems in Mali, market garden produce perishes at high rates in Mali, often exceeding 20%. To improve the availability and accessibility of nutritious and healthy products for households throughout the year, Sugu Yiriwa organized three trainings in November 2022 for 177 market actors on good preservation practices for perishable products.

During those sessions, participants worked on techniques to preserve food products in the short- and long-term, using technologies such as Zero Energy Cooling Chambers (ZECCs) and canary fridges, as well as modern methods like pasteurization, refrigeration and the use of preservatives. Brining was also presented as a preservation method.

“I put these new skills into practice by building a conservation chamber with cement bricks and sand that was available at my house,” Diarra said. “This method helped me save time, energy and money by better preserving my products.”

With these new skills and techniques, Diarra’s family is able to enjoy fresh produce regularly, including during the Ramadan season where she conserved carrots, peppers and tomatoes effectively for up to two weeks.

She also began producing brine for marketing, as well as for her own consumptions.

“The brine I produce helps diversify my sources of income and provide my family with vegetables such as green beans and carrots throughout the year, even when they are not available in the market,” she said. “While others struggle to find these vegetables, I am able to preserve them year-round.”

To share her experience, Diarra organizes individual capacity building sessions for her family, cooperative members and neighbors on her volition. With knowledge from the Sugu Yiriwa training, she was able to disseminate information to 40 individuals, improving their incomes and access to nutritious foods year-round, while also building capacity.

“I am proud of the positive feedback I received and the impact these training sessions have on their lives,” she said.

Access to nutritious food year-round is essential to addressing malnutrition, especially in Mali’s the southern zone, among children, pregnant and lactating women and the elderly. According to the 2022 Standardize Monitoring and Assessment of Relief and Transitions (SMART) nutrition survey, the prevalence of acute malnutrition in Mali exceeds the 10% alert threshold in most regions. Feed the Future Sugu Yiriwa trainings, like the one attended by Diarra, contribute to improving household livelihoods and fostering resilience by enabling households to produce and consume healthy foods throughout the year.

[1] Rapport diagnostic des systèmes de production maraîcher au Mali, Projet SAFEVEG.

Feed the Future Rwanda Hinga Wunguke Activity

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Overview

Rwanda has seen significant improvement in agricultural production over the past 10 years. However, challenges due to the limited use of improved seeds, fertilizers and other inputs, lack of market information and environmental constraints such as land size and soil health persist. The sector also faces challenges such as food insecurity and malnutrition among vulnerable households, with 20.6% of the Rwandan population experiencing food insecurity, 18.8% experiencing moderate food insecurity and 1.8% experiencing severe food insecurity. About 32.4 percent of under five years children are chronically malnourished (2021 Rwanda CFSVA). Recurring extreme weather shocks and global climate change also pose serious challenges to the continued growth of the sector. Modernizing the agriculture sector offers the potential to boost productivity and create additional economic opportunities, while improving food security and nutrition outcomes for rural households.

The five-year Feed the Future Rwanda Hinga Wunguke Activity aims to increase incomes and improve nutrition in Rwanda by sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and strengthening the domestic consumption and market for high-value and nutritious agricultural products. Hinga Wunguke, which translates to “grow profitable” in Kinyarwanda, utilizes a market systems approach, engaging and working through existing public and private market actors and structures to facilitate inclusive, locally driven and sustainable change.

By 2028, Hinga Wunguke will significantly improve Rwanda’s agricultural productivity, strengthen resilience to climate change, increase profitability for farmers and enhance nutrition and food security outcomes by enhancing access to improved inputs, knowledge, technologies, practices, finance and markets. It will also support policies that enable and incentivize private-sector investment and growth.

Approach

  1. Increase Agricultural Productivity: Hinga Wunguke focuses on improving agricultural practices by facilitating farmers’ access to knowledge, information and improved inputs and technologies. This approach aims to increase productivity, while promoting sustainable agriculture and strengthening resilience to shocks, such as the environmental and economic impacts of climate change.
  2. Facilitate Access to Finance for Farmers and Agribusinesses: Hinga Wunguke facilitates access to finance and improves financial literacy skills of farmers and agribusiness so that they can obtain and manage funding needed to boost their production and incomes. Hinga Wunguke also prioritizes engagement with the private sector to increase value chain financing and farm and agribusiness investment opportunities.
  3. Improve Market Availability and Demand for Nutritious Foods: Hinga Wunguke expands farmers’ access to markets while increasing the availability and consumption of safe and nutritious food for Rwandan consumers. The Activity will accomplish this by using a market systems approach to support the private sector in developing and promoting nutritious products. It then helps generate demand by educating consumers on the benefits of nutritious products.
  4. Strengthen the Enabling Environment for Market-Driven Agriculture: Hinga Wunguke works closely with other USAID/Rwanda implementing partners to strengthen the enabling environment for the development and implementation of policies that strengthen the Government of Rwanda’s (GOR) role as an enabler and the private sector’s role as a main driver of agricultural growth. The Activity will facilitate improved public-private dialogue so that the GOR can better support the private sector to invest in and lead systemic changes that modernize the agriculture sector and drive inclusive growth.

Partners

  • MarketShare Associates (MSA):A global firm of creative facilitators, strategists, economists and experienced research and implementation experts who believe that both public and private institutions should contribute to social transformation. Having already a great deal of experience in Rwanda, MSA’s mission is to bring actionable insights to market development.
  • Rwandan market systems actors: A key part of the Hinga Wunguke market-oriented approach will be its Catalytic Service Provider Fund and its Market Systems Opportunity Grants, which together total over USD 5.3 million. These resources will allow Hinga Wunguke to engage, innovate, disengage, adapt, and scale with a large number of Rwandan market systems actors whenever needed. Hinga Wunguke will also use “Pitch Fairs” and an approach of “aggressive facilitation” to identify entrepreneurs and change makers and bring in new expertise where it is most appropriate to achieve desired results. Hinga Wunguke will continually seek participant feedback on the use of these resources, including through annual surveys, impact assessments, and quarterly focus group discussions with participants throughout the relevant implementation areas of Rwanda.

Deterring Elephants with Chili Strings: Reducing Human-Wildlife Conflict

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The Tsholotsho District of Zimbabwe is home to an abundance of wild animals that move about freely. The Matabeleland region, where the district is located and where the USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance-funded Amalima Loko activity operates, is home to over 50,000 elephants.[1] Growing human and animal populations have increased pressure on land, food and water resources, creating competition between wild animals and local residents such as Mark Neta from the village of Funda. Human-wildlife conflict is an ever-present concern, endangering both the people and the animals involved. Herds of elephants can trample huge areas of cropland overnight, destroying the main food and livelihood source for local residents.

“Elephants are the most problematic animals,” Neta said. “They destroy crops and we would barely harvest.”

Trying to prevent this damage, Neta and other local farmers tried to scare them away through methods like beating drums.

“These efforts were, in most cases, in vain,” he said. “The elephants would still come.”

The implications of human-wildlife conflict for food security in the area were highlighted by Funda villagers during a Community Visioning exercise facilitated by Amalima Loko in late 2021. These sessions serve as forums where communities and their leaders can identify areas to prioritize and plan development interventions.

Mark Neta, from Funda village, Tsholtsho, pointing at a chili string.

To support the community’s goal of reducing human-wildlife conflict, Amalima Loko worked with local leaders to explore new ideas for deterring elephants from destroying crops. This is when they discovered the chili strings method used in other regions. While some were skeptical of its effectiveness, the community decided to try the method anyway. This involved hanging chili-infused strings across known elephant routes near cultivated areas to deter their entry into fields. The strings were hung as part of a three-month pilot in three villages in April 2022.

To create the strings, chilis must first be dried for six weeks, then ground into flakes and immersed in a liquid solution for 36 hours. Elias Sibanda, one of twelve community members trained in this chili string method, explained the process of then diluting the flakes with used engine oil before immersing the strings in the solution. After this, the strings are ready for use.

“You do not block the elephant’s routes or corridors but only at the point they divert into the fields,” he said. “We laid it 200 meters from the field.”

This proved to be successful with participants noticing the elephants being put off by the smell of the fuel-immersed chilis.

“Since the strings were laid in April, we have seen elephants diverting their movement from our village,” Sibanda said.

Some respondents in focus group discussions described elephants backing up and stomping in frustration, but then turning and changing direction away from the chili strings.

Community leaders identified young men like Sibanda, who frequently encounter wildlife in their work as cattle herders, to receive training as scouts and first responders for elephant encounters. Training participants gained new skills and agency, positioning them as important resources within their community.

“I was selected on the basis of my local knowledge of the bush and my passion to serve my community,” Sibanda said. “Together with other scouts from other villages, we were introduced to the ‘chili strings’ technology. We despised this at first. How can a string deter something as big as an elephant? Surely this should be a bad joke—so we thought.”

However, participants report a marked reduction in elephant encroachment in the areas where the chili strings were in use, as elephants stayed on their main paths rather than diverting towards fields.

“We at least managed to harvest—thanks to the chili strings. We have not seen or witnessed an elephant invasion to date [after hanging the strings],” Sibanda said.

Preventing elephants from destroying crops improves food security, but also reduces close encounters between humans and elephants. This frees farmers from having to monitor their fields day and night and gives them more time for other livelihood activities. Villagers also reported that they can now travel safely to schools and health centers without having to fear dangerous elephant encounters as much.

“Elephants have been giving us problems,” Stabile Sibanda said. “We would sleep in the fields between March and June guarding our fields.”

Funda village residents en route to inspect the chili strings.

This particularly impacted women, with the fear of elephant encounters preventing them from carrying out daily responsibilities.

“We were afraid to go to the clinic to collect our medicines or even get the porridge for the 6- to 24-month-old children,” Stabile Sibanda said, referring to Amalima Loko’s Blanket Supplementary Feeding Program, which distributes food baskets of Corn Soya Blend Plus (CSB+) and vegetable oil to pregnant and lactating women and children under two. “[Before the introduction of the chili strings,] it was even difficult for us to enjoy the common wild fruits such as Msosobiyana. Elephants would ravage this nutritious delicacy. Women would be afraid to gather thatching grass—elephants would also destroy this grass. School children would not go to school whenever there were reports that the elephants were roaming around.”

Participants reported that the chili strings strategy was easy to implement and less laborious than previous efforts to discourage elephants. The community will need to complete a full cycle of planting and harvesting next year to gauge the final results of the pilot activity, but early observations have prompted communities to begin mobilizing resources and planting chilies to make more chili strings for the upcoming season.

While the chili strings method is showing promising initial results for deterring elephants, the community still has many challenges to contend with, including lions, jackals and painted dogs. Addressing human-wildlife conflict requires intentional investment in good land use planning and adherence to grazing plans, as well as the development of effective early warning systems. Amalima Loko will continue to work with the Funda village and communities throughout the project area to address human-wildlife conflict and other food security and resilience priorities that have been identified through the Community Visioning process.

[1]https://www.cms.int/sites/default/files/document/cms_nlp_zwe_plan_elephant_2021.pdf