Uasin Gishu maize farmers find new fortunes in chilli cultivation

Uasin Gishu maize farmers find new fortunes in chilli cultivation

Maize farmers in Uasin Gishu County, buffeted by new diseases, poor yields and low farm gate prices have found new life line in pepper farming thanks to a contract farming model being chaperoned by Rupa Fruits and Vegetables Farm.

The county that sits in the North Rift has traditionally been known as the country’s food basket owing to the vast acreage under maize production. Up to 40 per cent of all maize consumed in the country comes from the region.

But an outbreak of the deadly Maize Lethal Necrosis in 2012 that has continued to take a toll on yields and earnings has seen more farmers dump cultivation of the cereals for more lucrative and promising alternatives.

Rupa Fruits and Vegetables  Farm that grows tomatoes, chilies and horticulture produce for export has come to the rescue of the farmers through a model where it contracts them to grow on their behalf.

Farmers have found chili an easy crop to cultivate since it is favoured by the growing conditions that work for maize. The farm supplies farmers with two chili varieties, Caroline Cayenne that is green and Tabiche that turns red upon reaching maturity.

The varieties have gained prominence among farmers due to their fast maturing rate, their superior pest and disease resistance traits and low cost production process. On average the chili takes two months to mature. Being a perennial crop, harvesting is year round. To entice farmers to chili farming, the Farm has been distributing free seedlings and then buys the mature pepper at Sh70 a kilo.

“I have been in the business of growing chili for the last one year. It is the complete opposite of maize cultivation. I have had no problems at all with pests and diseases and I use very little in purchasing agricultural inputs like fertilizers. What is even more interesting is the fact that the markets have expressed such a huge appetite for the crop that it is hard to meet demand despite numerous farmers having taken up its cultivation,” said Jeremy Koskei a farmer.

The diversified market needs of the two varieties has further spawned farmer fortunes. The green variety is preferred by retail consumers and this has seen Rupa Fruits and Vegetables Farm repackage them in small quantities and distributing them to retail outlets in major towns. The red variety on the other hand is a favourite among companies making chilli source.

“Our fortunes have changed tremendously. I did my calculation and realized I am able to earn up to Sh10, 000 extra from chili compared to what I used to earn with maize. The same can be said of the expenses which have reduced significantly. My ultimate plan is to increase the area under which I am farming chilli,” added Mary Lusweti another farmer.

With the impact of climate change expected to hit especially maize farmers hard even as prices continue to plummet due to cheap imports from neighbouring countries like Uganda, agricultural experts are pitching for alternatives that will insulate farmers from vagaries of weather while earning them more even as they spend less on their production. “Chilli is for example one of the crops that remain untapped despite its growing populace in the markets both local and international due to an increasingly health conscious middle class. The fact that it is relatively easy to grow compared to many other crops is an added advantage especially to smallholder farmers. We are glad that the farmers in Uasin Gishu and the greater North Rift are beneficiaries of this,” said Augustus Kiptoo an agricultural officer in the county.

But farmers’ entry into chilli farming has also been driven by growing demand from other exporters as studies now show market appetite for the crop is currently at an all- time high. Mace Foods, another company located in Eldoret has sustained demand from farmers through incentives as it hunts for African Birds Eye Chilli and Long Cayenne chili varieties

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