Turning up the heat – how chilli growing is conserving Uganda’s wildlife

Juliet Aneno explains how chilli-growing enterprises in Uganda are helping households generate non-poaching related income – supporting efforts to mitigate human-wildlife conflict around Murchison Falls National Park.

Juliet Aneno's picture
Insight by 
Juliet Aneno
Juliet Aneno is market development coordinator at Village Enterprise
15 June 2021
Sprouts of chilli plants

Evelyne and Beatrice from the Pe Nongi Labedo business group spreading maize to dry (Photo: copyright Village Enterprise

As part of the IIED-led project that seeks to increase community engagement in tackling wildlife crime by implementing park-level action plans, Village Enterprise has established a Model Conservation Village programme in Nanda, a village on the edge of Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP).

The programme supports women from households in Nanda to start wildlife-friendly businesses, with the aim of mitigating human-wildlife conflict and poaching in MFNP. It also seeks to raise awareness of the park’s benefits – to build support for conservation.

The women are originally subsistence farmers who were targeted for enterprise development as an incentive for the male members of their household to remain in the project’s wildlife scout programme.

Village Enterprise invited women to join the programme in November 2019, providing training on how to start a business, save money and eventually diversify and expand. The women were placed into small business groups, each group receiving a start-up grant of US$150.

The groups opted to grow chilli – being one of the few crops that elephants do not eat. In February 2020, Village Enterprise partnered with Mangi, a chilli processing company based in Lira in northern Uganda, who would buy chillies from the business groups at a good price of $4 per kilogram.

As part of the programme, Mangi visited Nanda the following March to train business group members in planting chilli seeds and caring for the crops.

Village Enterprise documented the start of the chilli planting projects and visited a year later to see how the programme had benefited the women and their households. 

These are stories of how the women fared, the challenges they faced, and what they hope to achieve from their businesses.

Pe Nongi Labedo business group

Three women gather straw

The Pe Nongi Labedo business group gathers straw to protect their chilli plants (Photo: copyright Village Enterprise)

Evelyne Abot, Beactice Achen and Sharon Akello planted their first chilli seeds in March 2020. With their start-up grant they cleared an area of land to transfer the seedlings, once matured. Their first seeds grew very well, but due to conflict within the group (one of the group’s husband sold most of their seedlings out of jealousy) they harvested only 28kg of chillies.

Later in 2020 Sharon relocated to northern Uganda. Evelyne and Beatrice decided to stop growing chillies and use their land to grow maize, earning them over $120 from the first harvest.

With their savings they extended hire of the land and acquired more chilli seeds which they planted in February 2021.

Evelyne and Beatrice are optimistic – Mangi has promised to continue buying their chillies at a good price. They say that the problems with their first chilli harvest will make them work harder to ensure they achieve their goal of buying land to build houses for their families.

Kula Na Jembe business group

Woman cooks pastries

Miriam cooks mandazi for sale at the group’s new breakfast and snack business (Photo: copyright Village Enterprise)

Miriam Longole, Acha Nyanga and Lukia Dawa are subsistence farmers. They hope the programme will enable them to send their children to good schools.

The group’s first nursery bed of chillies was affected by pests. Undeterred, they planted a second bed, but yielded only 5kg, earning the group $19. Nonetheless, they used this money to start a breakfast and snack enterprise for local village workers, allowing them to save money every day.

As well as earning healthy incomes, the group hopes the chilli planting – because chillies repel elephants – will prevent their crops from being raided. In February 2021 the group planted chilli seeds covering an acre of land.

Kwo Lonyo business group

Sprouts of chilli plants

Chilli plants grow under straw for protection (Photo: copyright Village Enterprise)

Like most women in Nanda village, Teopista Birungi and Joyce Abolo used to grow cassava, beans and potatoes to make a living. Under Mangi’s guidance they switched to chilli and since March 2020 have yielded 63kg – earning nearly $250 for the harvest.

Support from the women’s families also contributed to the project’s success – something that Village Enterprise encourages since any income generated should benefit the entire household.

The chilli sales have paid for Joyce’s daughter’s school fees. She said managing during the COVID-19 pandemic would have been very difficult without the programme, and is grateful that Mangi continues to buy her chillies every week. She plans to grow another acre of plants.

Atio Ku Tek business group

Two women cover straws with a net

Atio Ku Tek business members Paula Akoka and Margaret Wiyagic cover  chillies with netting and straw to protect the crops from rain and the strong East African sun (Photo: copyright Village Enterprise)

Margaret Wiyagic, Paula Akoka and Charity Pira Achelle hope their chilli business will give them freedom to explore other income generating options and enable them to send their children to good schools.  

Margaret relocated to West Nile in January 2021 leaving the other group members to manage the chilli garden. Before she left, the group earnt $23 from chilli sales. Paula says her family now help her to tend to the garden and protect the plants from the hot sun.

In February 2021 Paula harvested a second lot of chillies and is planning on opening up more land to plant more chilli seeds next season.

These stories were collected by Village Enterprise, whose mission is to end extreme poverty in rural Africa through entrepreneurship and innovation. Village Enterprise is a partner on the IIED-led project ‘Implementing park action plans for community engagement to tackle illegal wildlife trade’, funded by the UK government’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund.