Pepper Farming In Kenya, The Hot Profitable Sector
Pepper popularly known as Pilipili kali in Kenya is a vegetable crop. It belongs to the Solanaceae family. The Solanaceae family includes plants such as tomatoes, Irish potatoes, and egg plants, among others, is increasingly becoming one of the hottest crops for farmers and a household ingredient. They are grown mostly for their fresh fruits used to flavour soups and stews and for seasoning and making sauces.
Large amounts of pepper in developing countries are grown for export to the European Union and other markets. This contributes to foreign exchange earnings to the respective countries and income to farmers, majority of who are small scale growers.
Pepper can be produced in the field and under greenhouse farming using conventional and organic procedures. Conventional production of pepper in the field is easily adoptable by farmers because of it productivity in the short run. However, organic production is of more benefits in the long run because its yields per unit area of land increase gradually while guaranteeing against chemical residues and environmental degradation.
On the other hand, greenhouse production of pepper is capital intensive but profitable if good measures are taken to maintain sufficient crop nutrient supply as well as disease and pest free growing conditions.
Characteristics of pepper
- Pepper is an herbaceous annual which matures early under low temperatures. Growth form varies from one species to another.
- Pepper has deep taproots with fibrous lateral roots that spread between 50 and 60 cm wide.
- Its flowers are small with white or purple petals.
- Pepper flowers develop into fruits which are berries with several white coloured seeds.
- Fruits from different species of pepper vary in colour, size, form and flavour, from very hot to mild or sweetly pungent.
- Pepper fruits are commonly green before maturity. After maturity, fruit colour can either be red, orange, yellow or purple.
Pepper Varieties In Kenya
In this category we have Cone pepper (Capsicum annum Var conoides) and Bell pepper (Capsicum annum Var grossum). Cone pepper has erect and conical fruits that grow to two inches long. Bell pepper has stout bush, while its fruits are large, soft, irregularly compressed, red or yellow and
mild in taste.
The most common varieties of sweet peppers are California wonder, Yolo wonder, Emerald giant and Ruby giant.
Under this species we have Chili pepper and Cayenne (Capsicum annum Var longum), African bird’s eye chili (Capsicum fruitescens) and Cherry pepper (Capsicum annum Var ceraciforme).
- Fruits of Chili pepper and Cayenne are pendent, slender and tapering. They are also very hot and turn red when mature.
- African bird’s eye chilies are perennials that grow as shrubs. Their fruits are small, clustered, erect, conical, pointed, measuring up to 3 cm long and red or purple when mature.
- Fruits of cherry pepper are erect or bending, rounded and measuring about one inch in diameter. They turn yellow or purple at maturity and are very pungent.
The most commonly grown varieties of hot pepper include Fresno, Anaheim, Long red cayenne, Jalapeno and African bird’s eye chili.
Uses of pepper
- Different types of pepper form a major part of fresh and semi processed export crops from African, Caribbean and Pacific countries to European and other markets.
- Sweet chilies are used fresh in vegetable salads or cooked in stew. Their characteristic of having a mild flavour renders them acceptable to a wide range of consumers.
- Hot chilies are used in fresh form to season foods. They have also been reported to have medicinal properties against illnesses such as flu and asthma. Hot chilies are processed into curry powder, chili source and a variety of bitter flavoured beverages.
- Extracts from hot chilies are used as botanical pesticides against crop pests like arphids in organic farming systems.
- African bird’s eye chilies are used to manufacture teargas.
Climatic requirements for growing pepper
Pepper plants require continuous growth for satisfactory results. They are very sensitive to unfavourable weather though, of course, the farmer has little control over the weather. Peppers will often drop their blossoms when temperatures are high and humidity is low. Cool weather can also keep the plant from flowering. Deep cultivation that cuts the roots causes a water stress on the plant that frequently makes blossoms drop. Even a short dry period can cause the same effects.
Soils for growing pepper should be well drained, rich in organic matter with a pH range of 6.0 to 6.5. However, pepper can also tolerate a wider soil pH range of 4.5 (acidic) to 8.0 (slightly alkaline). Light sands, clay sandy and sandy loams are also suitable for growing pepper. These soils have attributes that make the crop to mature early.
Rainfall above 600 mm and well distributed during vegetative growth and fruiting is favourable for production of chilies. Crop irrigation should be considered in areas experiencing rainfall below 600 mm per year. Irregular rainfall distribution during fruit development exposes sweet pepper to blossom end rot disorder. During the same period water stress will lead to fruit and flower abortion.
Favourable soil temperatures for growing pepper range between 18°C and 25°C. A temperature of up 29.5°C is the optimum. Temperatures below 18°C affect fruit development in that crops succumb to frost damage. Hot conditions of over 32°C coupled with low humidity cause poor fruit set and both fruits and flowers can abort prematurely.
Temperature also affects fruit quality; best fruit colour is realized at temperatures from 18°C to 24°C. At temperatures below 13°C colour ceases to form. Night temperatures above 22°C lead to poor fruit set.
Pepper can grow optimally up to 2,000 metres above sea level. Cultivation of pepper in lower areas should be avoided during extremely hot periods.
Pepper Crop establishment in the field
Successful crop establishment involves the germination and emergence of a minimum number of plants which grow and develop with strong seedling vigour. Healthy plants are better able to tolerate pathogens and insects, compete for space and nutrients with emerging weeds and will be more tolerant of applied herbicides.
Pepper growers must consider the following management factors when preparing to establish their crops:
- choose the right paddock to grow pepper, taking into consideration the soil type and rotational history of the soil or block
- sow good quality seed that has a good germination potential and high purity
- select the optimum seeding rate, sowing depth and row spacing for the environment
- plant the crop at the optimum sowing date or season for the variety and length of growing season.
Some of the important points to consider in crop establishment are manure preparation, establishment of seedlings in a nursery, land preparation, transplanting of seedlings and general crop maintenance.
Establishment of pepper seedlings in the nursery
a) Seed requirements
Pepper can be planted directly or transplanted. Germination is limited by seed dormancy. Raising seedlings in the nursery and transplanting is recommended to ensure maximum seed germination and good quality planting materials. It is advisable to use certified seeds in raising pepper.
In cases where farmers use their own seeds, then these should be extracted from mature pods picked from high yielding disease free plants. Seed extraction requires protection of hands of those doing the exercise with gloves to prevent irritation of eyes and nose. The amount of seed required
per ha is 200-250 g. Seeds should be soaked in clean water for two hours and dried to improve germination.
b) Raising seedlings
Nursery beds for sowing pepper should be located in an area that has free draining soils and free from soil pathogens. Soils diagnosed with pathogen and pests should be sterilized by use of pesticides or solarization. The solarization method is preferable in organic farming systems.
Solarization involves covering already prepared propagation media with polythene paper in an open place exposed to sunlight. The media is left for three weeks before being used to raise seeds. However, this method is not effective against all pathogens hence there is need to retest the soils
Steam sterilization can be practiced in enclosed nurseries. However, this involves initial costs of purchasing equipment such as drums and pipes, labour and demand for clean water. Soils should be prepared to a fine tilth in a bed measuring 1.5 by 6 m. Beds should be raised to 15 cm in areas
that experience excess rainfall. Some 60 kg of well decomposed manure should be incorporated in the top 10 cm of the soil.
In situations where soil structures are poor, a propagation media can be prepared by mixing top soil, sand and manure in the ratio of 3:2:1. This is then filled in polystyrene containers measuring three inches in diameter which are placed on a propagation bench. Purchased artificial media such
as vermiculite can also be used similarly, for high value pepper production where revenues justify initial costs.
Drill pepper seeds in the nurseries at a spacing of 15 cm and 1 cm depth.
One seed should be sowed per container. Cover seeded beds with dry mulch or shed netting. Water the beds with fine droplets. Watering should be done once every day. Seeds will germinate five days after sowing. Control measures should be taken against pests and diseases. Seedlings should be
hardened off in the fourth and fifth week after seed emergence by reducing shade and watering frequency to three times per week.
Seedlings grown in soils that are poor in nitrogen and phosphorus should be sprayed with foliar fertilizers three weeks after seed emergence to boost early root and vegetative growth. Seedling can be transferred into containers when field conditions are not favourable for immediate transplanting.
Land preparation for growing pepper
Land on which to grow pepper should be ploughed to a depth of 20 to 30 cm preferably during dry season to kill weeds. Soils with hard pan within 150 cm of the soil layer require deep soil cultivation using a chisel plough or double digging. The latter method is recommended where there is sufficient labour and time allowance before planting.
The use of a chisel plough is justified where the farmer can afford fuel costs and land is big enough for mechanized operations. Rippers made appropriate for animal draught can be used where farmers own donkeys or oxen. Raised beds measuring 1 m wide are recommended where soils are
heavy and rich in clay, with poor drainage. Making of beds can be done conveniently using a tractor drawn or hand rotary tiller. Second ploughing comes immediately before planting. Double dug beds do not need further tillage before sowing seeds or planting seedlings.
Transplanting of pepper seedlings
Planting holes are dug 10 cm deep in conventionally made beds. Raised and double dug beds are usually loose enough to insert seedling at recommended spacing. Spacing of chilies depends on variety and mode of land preparation as shown in table 1 below. Manure is applied in each hole at the rate of 10 tons per ha under conventional practice.
Pepper Crop maintenance
Dry plant materials are laid on the soil surface in the inter row space to preserve moisture and smother weeds. It also reduces the need for hand weeding hence low chances of transmitting diseases such as bacterial and fusarium wilt through contaminated tools.
Fields should be kept weed free by doing a shallow weeding in early stages of crop establishment. Areas suspected to have incidences of bacterial and fusarium wilt require that weeding tools be washed and disinfected before weeding a disease free crop.
c) Top dressing
Supply 30 kg per ha of nitrogen as Calcium Ammonium Nitrate (CAN) at the beginning of flowering. Soils that are water logged or alkaline require foliar feed sprays during vegetative growth and flowering to supply macro and micro nutrients. More nitrogen and magnesium is required during vegetative growth. At flowering plants may show increased demand for potassium, boron and phosphorus.
Irrigation needs will vary with existing weather conditions. Soil moistures should be tested using moisture meters for accurate irrigation needs determination. Micro sprinklers can be used to irrigate nursery plants.
- During and immediately after transplanting overhead sprinklers are preferred to bring soil moisture to field capacity and creating moist micro climate to promote seedling establishment in the harsh field conditions. After seedling establishment, both drip and overhead sprinkler irrigation methods can be used to water crops.
- Drip irrigation can be done at night when temperatures are low thus ensuring low moisture loss and efficient water uptake by plants. In commercial ventures which limit labour costs, soluble fertilizers and pesticides can be applied in irrigation water.
- Sprinkler irrigation should be used during day time. Use of sprinkler irrigation under low temperatures can create favourable conditions for diseases such as anthracnose and rhizoctonia. Sprinkler irrigation is also recommended towards harvesting of chilies to keep the fruits fresh. Small pieces of land can be irrigated by use of a watering can or hosepipe.
Aphids, mites, thrips and white flies
- Timely weeding to destroy host plants
- Use recommended insecticides
- Root knot nematode is usually a problem only in poor sandy soils so add organic matter before planting.
Common diseases include Anthracnose, bacterial wilts, Fusarium wilt, late blight, Downey and Powder mildews and rust.
Virus infections (tobacco mosaic virus, cucumber mosaic virus) are a major factor in reducing the productive life of commercial chili fields.
- Remedial measures to disease attacks include; use of certified seeds and ensuring field hygiene
- Remove virus-diseased plants (mottled leaves, stunted) from the field
- Practicing crop rotation
- Applying fungicides for fungal infections
- Pepper pods mature two and a half to three months after transplanting. However, the harvesting stage varies with expected market.
- A yield range of 1000 to 3000 kg per ha of dried African bird’s eye pods is possible under good management.
- Chilies are harvested for fresh market after attaining a green orange to red colour at maturity. Green pods are usually harvested for making vegetable salads. Chilies for processing should have full red colour. Pods of some varieties of hot chilies turn yellow at maturity which is the right time for them to be harvested.
- Sweet pepper is harvested at maturity when green, yellow or orange in colour depending on variety.
- Fresh pod yields of 15 tons per ha can be realized in optimum conditions.
Marketing of pepper
A farmer needs to conduct a market research for his produce long before he embarks on the actual planting of the crop. There is need to research on the national and international competitiveness of the pepper harvest, selecting those markets that are major consumers of pepper carefully.
Given the globalization of markets, international competitiveness requires industries to be competitive in both the domestic and relevant foreign markets. At the same time, regional producers have as one of the main targets the export markets for the fresh peppers as well as value-added pepper-based products.
Profitability of pepper farming in Kenya
Pepper farming can be profitable in Kenya, but the profitability will depend on several factors such as the type of pepper grown, the farming practices used, the market demand, and the selling price.
Kenya produces various types of peppers, including bell peppers, chilli peppers, and sweet peppers. Each type has its unique market demand and pricing. For instance, chilli peppers are in high demand for export markets, especially in Europe, while bell peppers are in high demand for the local market and export markets in the Middle East.
The farming practices used, such as irrigation, fertilization, pest control, and crop rotation, will affect the crop yield and quality. Proper farming practices will result in higher crop yields and better-quality peppers, translating into higher profits.
Market demand and pricing are also essential factors that determine the profitability of pepper farming in Kenya. Local demand and export markets determine the selling price of peppers. Export markets typically offer higher prices for peppers than local markets.
In conclusion, pepper farming can be profitable in Kenya, but it requires proper farming practices, market research, and pricing strategies to maximize profits.
Cost involved on Pepper Farming In Kenya Per Acre
The profitability of pepper farming in Kenya can be analyzed using a basic cost-benefit analysis. Here’s an example of the maths involved:
Assuming a farmer wants to cultivate one acre of land for chilli pepper farming, the following costs may be incurred:
- Land preparation (plowing, harrowing, and furrowing) – KES 15,000
- Seeds and planting – KES 10,000
- Fertilizers and chemicals – KES 25,000
- Irrigation and water management – KES 20,000
- Labor and miscellaneous costs – KES 20,000
Total cost of production = KES 90,000
Assuming the farmer’s yield is 10,000 kg per acre, and the selling price is KES 100 per kg, the total revenue will be:
10,000 kg x KES 100/kg = KES 1,000,000
The net profit will be calculated by subtracting the total cost of production from the total revenue:
KES 1,000,000 – KES 90,000 = KES 910,000
Therefore, the net profit per acre will be KES 910,000.
This is just an example, and the actual costs and revenue may vary depending on the specific circumstances of the farmer and the market conditions. Additionally, other factors such as weather conditions, disease and pest management, and transportation costs may also impact the profitability of pepper farming in Kenya.