Chili Farming In Kenya: Chili / hot pepper is increasingly becoming one of the hottest crops for farmers and a household ingredient in Kenya. They are grown mostly for their fresh fruits used to flavor soups and stews and for seasoning and making sauces.

chili

  • Given the tropical climatic conditions of Kenya, chilies farming is ideal, and the warmer the growing conditions, the hotter the chili.
  • The crop has a ready market and can grow in marginal areas with minimum rainfall.

Chili farming in Kenya

Kenyaโ€™s agricultural sector is one of the backbones of the countryโ€™s economy, representing 23% of the countries annual GDP. The agriculture sector employs more than 40 percent of the total population and 70 percent of the rural population. Kenya was an important exporter of chili peppers to Europe up until 2019, when the EU introduced new plant health regulations.

Since then, costly pest control and containment mechanisms have deterred up to 90 percent of Kenyan firms previously exporting to Europe from doing so, instead opting to sell their chilis to the lower return Middle Eastern markets. The costs associated with these measures are out of reach for smallholder producers and smaller exporters.

Some of the counties that thrive in Chili farming in Kenya include; Makueni, Kirinyaga, Machakos, Laikipia, Naivasha Meru, Nyandarua, and Embu with targeted export destinations including United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Russia, Djibouti, and the Middle East.

Chili Varieties In Kenya

The varieties of Kenyan chilies represent some of the hottest of them;

  • Cayenne Pepper,
  • African Bird Eye,
  • Jalapeno,
  • Serenade,
  • habareno

Best Weather and Soils for Chili Cultivation

Hot and humid weather is very suitable for the cultivation chili. Cool, wet weather reduces growthย  and the plants become more susceptible to disease attack. Temperature should be in the range of 22 ยฐC to 35 ยฐC for good for chili production.

The sandy loam, loam and clay loam soils are good for chili cultivation. The soil should be well drained and aerated as it gives a better yield. Highly alkaline or acidic soils are not recommended for chili cultivation.

Chili seed can also be grown in seed sowing trays using peat moss instead of soil. The trays can be placed on clean, dry ground. They should be raised above the surrounding soil in order to drain any excessive moisture. Watering can be done using hand held sprinklers.

Field Selection & Land Preparation

Chilis grow best in sandy, sandy loam, loam and clay loam soils which are well aerated. Saline, water logged, and clay soils are not recommended for chili cultivation. Chilis are particularly susceptible to seedling diseases. Growers should practice crop rotation and avoid fields which have recently been planted to tomato, brinjal, peppers or white potatoes

Soil should be plowed to the depth of the expected root zone and clods crushed. Normally, soil preparation of 12 to 18 inches deep is considered optimal. Residues of the previous crop should be thoroughly mixed up in the soil through ploughing as it will also increase the organic matter in the soil.

This tillage will provide optimum soil structure to produce vigorous seedlings, support plant growth and produce higher yields.

Methods of Growing Chili Plants

  • Growing seedlings in raised bed nurseries for transplanting to the field
  • Growing seedlings in seedling trays, and using sterilized growing medium
  • Planting seed directly in field ridges

A. Growing chili seedlings in raised bed nursery

In open fields, seedling nurseries can be established by developing raised beds of 1.5 to 2 feet above the ground. Nurseries can vary in size, but a reasonable size might be 4 x 6 feet, or a larger nursery might be 8 x 12 feet.

Developing seed nurseries flat with the ground should be avoided. Nursery beds should be close to a water source and the bed should be tilled thoroughly so the soil has no clods. The benefit of the raised seed bed is that the excessive moisture drains away from the tender roots. Excess moisture tends to encourage the development of seedling diseases. The seedlings grown on the raised beds will also have better root development, increasing resistance to seedling diseases. A small amount of a complete fertilizer (for example 0.5 to 1 kg) should be applied to the nursery bed in order to help the seedlings get a good start.

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After the seedling bed is developed growers can use a string, measuring ruler, stick or a metal rod to create small, straight furrows in which seed should be placed side by side in the rows,ย  approximately 2-3 inches apart. After that cover the seed with ash or straw etc. and apply water through a hand sprinkler. Apply the water gently in order to avoid washing the seed away or covering them with too much water.

B. Growing chili seedlings in seedling trays

An alternative method of growing seedlings is to grow them in seedling trays. These are made of plastic or natural materials such as compressed peat moss. The trays contain a number of individual cells where seedlings can be grown, separated from other seedlings. The advantage is that roots of the seedlings donโ€™t become entangled with adjoining seedlings, allowing them to be removed from the trays without tearing roots. Additionally, the seedlings can be removed with soil attached to the small root ball and transplanted with less stress.

Growers often use sterilized soil or a commercially-available growing medium when using seedling trays. The sterilization process kills fungi that cause seedling disease, helping the plant get off to a better start. Growers can make their own sterilized soil for growing transplants by mixing one-part loamy soil, one-part shredded peat moss, and one-part sand.

Seedling trays can be placed on raised beds in the field or in any suitable location. Whether grown in raised beds or in plastic trays, seedling damage by insects can be reduced using fine mesh netting as a cover over the nursery.

Apply water regularly to the nursery, as needed, to prevent the seedlings from experiencing drought stress. When the seedlings are 25-35 days old, they should ready to be transplanted to the field. Water the beds, or seedling trays, thoroughly a few hours before removing the seedlings from the nursery. This will soften the soil and cause less damage when the seedlings are removed. Avoid simply pulling them from the nursery bed because this will cause the loss of the very fine, almost invisible, root hairs.

Use a small spade or trowel to help remove the seedlings. Seedlings grown in trays can be removed by gently pulling the plants out, gently bending or twisting the tray. Discard weak or diseased seedlings.

The seedlings should be treated with a liquid NPK fertilizer with zinc and appropriate insecticides and fungicides at time of transplanting. These are usually mixed, according to label directions, and the plant roots are dipped into the solution at the time of planting, or some of the solution is poured into the hole formed for the individual seedlings. Follow label recommendations for the products you select.

A few hours before transplanting, water the field in order to have moisture available for the tender
seedlings. The seedlings can be transplanted manually or with a mechanical transplanter.

C. Direct seeding in the field

Another option is to sow seed directly in the field in well-tilled, leveled ridges (beds). After forming the ridges, apply water and let the ridges settle for a few days. If using furrow irrigation, seed should be sown at the level where the irrigation water moisture level ends in order to insure seed can receive adequate moisture for germination and seedling growth, without danger of being water-logged. Water regularly to avoid drought stress to tender seedlings.

Seed can be planted manually or with a mechanical planter.

Transplanting

Seedlings are transplanted when they are about 8-10cm high with at least 4 true leaves. Transplants should be set as soon as possible in the field to avoid drying out of the roots. Apply grass mulch to protect the fruits from water splash.

Spacing

Spacing Should be 45cm (within rows) by 60cm (between rows) Intercropping-Intercropping can supplement income from the farm. Spacing of 1 -2 m for intercrop production is recommended depending on the crop.

Chili Seed rate per acre

400-500g per hectare is required depending on spacing (about 20 grams of seed should give at least 500 good plants).

Mulching

Dry plant materials are laid on the soil surface in the inter row space to preserve moisture and smother weeds.
This also reduces the need for hand weeding hence low chances of transmitting diseases such as bacterial and fusarium wilt through contaminated tools.

Fertilization and Irrigation Planning

Before planting the crop, the soil and water should be tested. Soil and water samples should be collected as per the recommended procedure. Many reputable fertilizer companies andย  government agencies offer agricultural soil and water analysis at discounted rates.

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It is generally recommended to mix a portion of the fertilizer requirement into the soil during the time ridges are formed. A later application of fertilizer at the beginning of the peak fruiting period may be beneficial.

Diseases

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.
Control
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

Harvesting

The fruits are ready for first picking between 2 1/2 to 3 months after transplanting.
Picking continues for 3 to 4 months and it is recommended to harvest all the red ripe chilies as soon as they appear.
Harvesting can be done once or twice a week.
Harvest mature, deep red fruits only of length not more than 2 cm. Chilies should be picked without stalks.
Damaged, overripe, or green chilies should not be taken to the dryer.
The fruit should be picked early in the day after dew evaporates from the plant.

Chili Farming Challenges

Lack of quality planting material
There is a lack of availability of certified seeds of chilli of that could be used by organic farmers. In fact, there is a need to develop suitable varieties or hybrids for organic cultivation and making them easily available to the farmers.

Integrated inputs management
Integrated Nutrient Management (INM) and Integrated Water Management (IWM) are required in chilli cultivation as it helps in the reduction of cost. There is a need for strengthening research and development for location-based chilli production technologies.

Insect and pest management
In order to ensure the productivity of organic chilli farms it is essential to ensure insect and pest management. However, organic farmers do not have sufficient capacities in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and the use of biopesticides. It is therefore essential to build capacities of farmers in IPM and also ensure large scale multiplication of bio-fertilisers, vermicompost, bio-control agents and then distributing them to the farmers at reasonable rates.

Improving cultivation practices
Linked to the above factors is the fact that there is relatively a lack of awareness and capacities amongst farmers related to organic farming. In regard to the above factors, farmers related to organic farming lack awareness and capacities in the organic farming sector. Through the capacity building of farmers cultivation practices can be improved.

Post-harvest management
Post-harvest management is critical for red chilli and proper drying of chilli ensures good quality of produce. Farmers require support for post-harvest handling and value addition along with a need for training and education on postharvest handling.

Financial support
The organic farmers have a lack of access to institutional financial banks regulated markets and co-operative marketing society should adopt flexible lending policy for organic farmers to meet their credit requirements.

Market research
There is a lack of adequate marketing research on the export potential of organic produce. In fact, in order to promote organic cultivation of crops such as chilli there is a need for proper research and for establishing market linkages that would enable the farmers and their organisations to obtain a better price for organic products.

Nutritional value of Chilies

Research studies indicate that chilies have high nutritional value since they can be a source of vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin B, iron, potassium, and magnesium. The capsaicin in them contain
anti-bacterial, anti-diabetic, anti-carcinogenic and analgesic properties. They also help to reduce cholesterol levels in the body, aid in digestion, help relieve migraines, muscle and joint pain.

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Success Story Of A Chili Farmer In Bungoma County

Byย Rachel Kibui

For years, Makutano farm in Kanduyi, Bungoma County, specialised in growing collard green vegetable, commonly known as sukumawiki.

Although this sounds like a normal agribusiness venture, it was not only labour intensive but paid little.

However, this farm has since transformed to a chilli farm, with only very minimal traces of sukumawiki.

On an early afternoon, Amos Sifuna, the farmโ€™s manager, is tending to a heavily fruited chili crop.

STRONG AROMA

He specialises in growing the Bird’s Eye chili variety, which is characterized by small chilles and a strong aroma.

Mr Sifuna moves from one plant to the other, ensuring that he destroys the seemingly stubborn weeds.

He had weeded for the crop about 14 days ago, he says, but the heavy rains causes them to grow back fast.

A week ago, Mr Sifuna adds, he got his maiden harvest from this crop, and is looking forward to the next harvest in a few days.

LONG RAINS

Having planted it in April, he had anticipated to get the first harvest in August.

But the long rains came late in this area, delaying the cropโ€™s maturity.

For him though, all is not lost.

He is hoping for a bumper harvest which will result to handsome returns.

The first harvest gave him twenty kilogrammes of chilli, each selling for Sh250.

READY MARKET

Mr Sifuna has a ready market for this produce as he is already contracted by a processing company based in Eldoret to supply the produce.

This saves him the hustle and losses of having to go through brokers who are notorious for taking advantage of farmers.

Besides, chilli farming is a more lucrative agribusiness compared to sukumawiki.

From one acre of chilli, Mr Sifuna anticipates to be making over Sh50,000 monthly.

โ€œI hope to be harvesting about 50 kilogrammes every week and sell at Sh250 per kilo,โ€ he says.

He used to make Sh60,000 from sukumawiki farming annually and had to replant the crop after every season.

His biggest challenge is lack of water as he is currently fully dependent on rainfall.

DRIP IRRIGATION

Mr Sifunaโ€™s wish is to have drip irrigation in this farm.

This way, he says, he will be able to harvest almost all year round and thus make more money from the chilli farming.

His employer works and resides in the city, and he has taken it upon himself to ensure maximum production.

โ€œWe communicate about the farm every day and I often update her on developments and even send pictures whenever necessary,โ€ says Mr Sifuna, adding that modern technology has made farming easy.

He enjoys eating food with mild chilli and so does he enjoy farming the crop.

He says that in future, he plans to introduce intensified poultry farming so that he can get manure to keep the farm fertile.

Besides, he wants to increase the area under chilli to at least three acres in the next one year.

MARKUP PROGRAMME

To succeed in chilli farming, he adds, one needs to have fertile land, certified seeds and possibly a stable source of water.

If small scale farmers come together, they can be able to produce in higher quantities, and therefore negotiate for better prices both locally and internationally, he says.

In a new project dubbed Market Access Upgrade Programme (Markup), the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) will be supporting chilli farmers like Mr Sifuna.

Stakeholders along this value chain will be among the beneficiaries of the four-year project, which aims at ensuring high standards of produce for the export, regional and local markets.

Funded by the European Union (EU), the Markup programme will also focus on macadamia nuts, herbs, spices, mangoes and passion fruit farming.

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