Dung Paper and Chili Peppers, by Evan Sorley

Upon arriving at my new home, my supervisor and I were taken by my host father to inspect the field. Though I could not understand all that was being said, I caught his motioning to the distance, pointing to bare patches of earth surrounded by maize, and the word “Ndovu” – Elephant. The subject of my internship was self evident that day, and is still an all too common occurrence. That is, the human-elephant conflict.

My host father still sleeps outside at night, as well as many farmers in the community, watching for elephants. This despite the establishment of the Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary in 1994, aimed at reducing the conflict and increasing revenue to the community through tourism. Coupled with the post election violence that has caused a sharp decrease in tourism throughout the country, Mwaluganje is facing difficulty in both its primary goals. It has been my hope while I am here I can help to help alleviate these difficulties.

I first identified that Elephant Dung Paper Project could be enhanced as a way to raise revenue and awareness of the sanctuary. To accomplish this, I have worked on improving the quality of the paper, arranged for the art club of the local primary school to decorate the notebook covers, and have made an informative stamp to go along with the products. I hope then to market the paper products to tourist shops and hotels around Mombasa.

A project to address the more pressing issue of stopping the crop raids by elephants is also under development. As has been done in Southern Africa, chili peppers can be used to ward off elephants. By informing and assisting farmers in how to grow and use chili peppers, we hope to create a project sustained for and by the local farmers. An additional benefit to this is the prospect of developing the peppers into a cash crop for additional income.

One farmer, Hassan, tells his story, common to so many others in the community. While he sees the importance of the elephants, it is difficult for him to value them himself. He, as well, spends his nights in his field, keeping watch for elephants, hoping to scare them away before any destruction of his maize, and livelihood. When presented with the chili pepper proposal, he is very receptive and hopes it can one day benefit him.

I am glad to say that we have been finding similar support throughout the community and surrounding areas. We have been able to recruit the aid of the district’s agriculture technicians, the Kenyan Wildlife Service, Camp Kenya, and Laikipia (a wildlife reserve in central Kenya who initiated their own chili pepper project a few years ago). We have also recruited five willing farmers to participate in the trial phase of the project, who are eager to plant their own peppers and try the various ways to use them to ward off elephants.

And may one day the farmers of Mwaluganje get a good night’s sleep.