Farmers in Zimbabwe have been urged to intensify the cultivation of chilli peppers to help build the resilience of local communities through this viable livelihood option in the wake of climate change risks, a local agronomist has said.
Special Musakura, a chilli agronomist with the Unicare company, said he is developing a landscape conservation strategy for the Middle Zambezi that increased chilli production will improve livelihood incomes.
“Farmers need to increase chilli production to earn better income and improve their livelihoods. They should not just grow chilli for subsistence or just to grow enough to scare wild animals, but they should scale up to grow more chilli,” he said.
“They need to see chili farming as a business and not just for their livelihood.”
Unicare, a major chilli production company, works closely with the African Wildlife Foundation in Muzarabani and Mbire districts to promote chilli cultivation as an economic alternative for local communities in the Zambezi Valley.
Local communities not only use chilli cultivation as a natural income-generating solution, but also as a tool to deter elephants from raiding their crops.
“Growing peppers improves their agricultural resilience. It is a drought resistant crop that can thrive in dry and arid regions,” Musakura said.
“We want farmers to grow more and earn more. This saves our sensitive Zambezi Valley ecosystems from deforestation.
Hot peppers are a simple and cost-effective solution to human-wildlife conflict.
When compacted into blocks or mixed with grain husks or cow dung and burned, the pungent smell of chili repels most wildlife, including elephants.
Chilli has the same effect when mixed with oil and spread on strings or rugs hung around the edges of the properties of local communities living near national parks – it repels elephants. Farmers harvest more due to reduced elephant attacks, but also sell the chillies to diversify their income.
It also saves elephants from being killed in retaliation by farmers trying to protect their farms and properties from attack.
Unicare has set the farm gate price for chillies at $2.75 per kg for the 2022 marketing season, up from $2.30 last year.
“We raised tariffs to protect farmers from rising input costs,” Musakura said.
“During the 2021 marketing season, we purchased between 35 and 40 tons of chillies from Muzarabani, Hurungwe, Mbire and other farmers in the country. We aim to get more than 60 tons of peppers this season.
Unicare’s other sister company, Agri-Leads, was looking to buy more than 100 tonnes of chilli this season.
Companies export chilli products to South Africa and Zambia.
Smallholder farmers rely heavily on rain-fed agriculture to grow chili peppers generating jobs and livelihoods.
Increasingly unpredictable rainfall and more frequent severe weather events (high winds, extreme heat, floods and droughts) have led to lower crop yields, increased crop losses, disruption of the agricultural calendar, reduced agricultural income and increasing degradation of land and natural resources.
Experts say this has led to increased food insecurity among women and children and the rural poor among those most affected.
Cultivating hot peppers can help build the resilience of local communities.
Zimbabwe has good soils and climate that favor the production of a variety of chillies.
The country currently exports chillies to the UK and Finland, including South Africa and Zambia, but has the potential to diversify into other markets such as Botswana, the Netherlands and Poland.
Zimbabwe is lagging behind in the production and export of chillies, other African countries like Morocco, Uganda and Kenya export to Europe and other global markets.
The world’s largest exporters of dried chillies are India, China and Peru.
In Africa, bird chilli producing countries, in addition to Zimbabwe, are Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Morocco, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa.