The Indian government is to encourage farmers to plant chilli peppers along routes favoured by wild elephants in an effort to deter them from eating crops. Clashes between India’s 21,000 wild elephants and the country’s 1.2 billion inhabitants are increasingly common.

About 400 Indians are killed each year by elephants and nearly 1m hectares of farmland damaged. In return, many elephants die annually in makeshift traps set by villagers or when hit by trains.

“We think planting chilli pepper may be worth trying,” SS Garbyal, of the ministry of environment and forest, told Indian Express .

The offbeat suggestion was made at a brainstorming meeting organised by the ministry to examine ways to reduce human-animal conflict, the newspaper reported.

The use of chilli – mixed with dung and made into fences – has been tested successfully in Namibia. An alternative method involves lighting blocks of dried chilli which then emit a choking smoke.

India's booming population and economic growth have placed the historic grazing lands of elephants under enormous pressure. To avoid exhausting fodder in one area, herds migrate.

Officials hope the animals will learn to avoid chilli-sown areas.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013