News and knowhow for farmers

ABE chillies offer farmers sweet returns

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By George Munene

African Birds Eye chilli farm­ing for the ex­port mar­ket is as prof­it­able a farm­ing ven­ture as you will find. Des­pite this, it re­mains un­tapped with sup­ply hardly scratch­ing the sur­face of mar­ket de­mand.

“We have had to un­for­tu­nately turn down many African Birds Eye chilli ex­port­ers; one was seek­ing 7,000kgs of ABE which we could not scramble enough of in time, an­other, a weekly sup­ply of 2,000Kgs we did not dare to take on. The ex­ist­ing pool of ABE chilli farm­ers is not enough to sus­tain ex­port de­mands,” says Mkulima Smarter’s George Wam­bugu.

One acre of well-ir­rig­ated and man­aged land can pro­duce up to 250kgs of fresh ABE on a weekly basis, 12,000kgs an­nu­ally. Dried ABE chilli weighs about 1/3 of the fresh pro­duce. This equates to 3,000 to 4,000kgs of dry ABE. The kilo­gram price of African Birds Eye chilli var­ies from Sh100-Sh270 de­pend­ing on the sea­son, crop qual­ity and the league you are ex­port­ing to.

Wam­bugu is work­ing with farm­ers from across the coun­try to build their ca­pa­city to en­sure they have the quant­it­ies and qual­ity re­quired for the ex­port mar­ket. Dried chil­lies need to be whole and un­broken with mois­ture con­tent of less than 12.5%. Sun-dry­ing chil­lies lowers their cap­saicin levels mak­ing their powder less hot and also bleaches out their red col­our. For these reas­ons, shade dried chil­lies fetch a bet­ter price; about Sh250 to Sh200 got­ten from ones that are sun-dried.
Re­lated News: Chilli ex­port­ers eye­ing the Middle East to com­pensate Europe mar­ket

Re­lated News: Farm­Biz TV:Kiboko farmer finds for­tunes in Bird’s Eye chilli,vows not to plant any­thing else.

The yield­ing po­ten­tial var­ies de­pend­ing on man­age­ment, loc­a­tion and sea­son from between 1,000 kg to 4,000 kg per acre every year. Well man­aged plants should be able to yield at least 600 grams of fresh chilli per plant per year or 200 grams of dried chilli.

African Birds Eye Chilli thrives in vari­ous re­gions, pre­fer­ring a 20⁰C to 30⁰C tem­per­at­ure range. Tem­per­at­ure below 16⁰C and above 32⁰C hinder fruit­ing in chilies. They thrive in light loamy well-drained or­ganic soils. PH levels of 6.0 to 6.5 are op­timum al­though they can tol­er­ate a wide PH range; 4.3 to 9.7. They are hardy but are oc­ca­sion­ally af­fected by thrips, mites, aph­ids and white­flies. Fungi such as downy mil­dew and powdery mil­dew also af­fect the crop.

Wam­bugu ex­plains, “It is im­port­ant to note that the qual­ity of seeds ruins most of the ABE chilli pro­duced loc­ally which do not pass the qual­ity test de­man­ded by most bulk buy­ers. This is partly caused by ge­netic con­tam­in­a­tion and con­tinu­ous in­breed­ing and cross-pol­lin­at­ing with other vari­et­ies of chilli and/or chilli re­lated crops. Un­for­tu­nately. there is no local agrovet out­let that sells cer­ti­fied ABE chili seeds within the re­gion, we have to get in­di­gen­ous im­ports from South Africa. 4,400 seeds suited to plant­ing an acre go for between Sh25,000 and Sh20,000.”

He ad­vices farm­ers to start small, prefer­ably on about 1/8 or 1/4 an acre they can eas­ily man­age as they learn the ropes on the crop’s main­ten­ance. With the right ag­ro­nomic ex­pert­ise and ex­per­i­ence, one can do as much as 20,000 seed­lings for an acre.

Re­lated News:Embu County se­cures ex­port mar­ket for farm­ers’ to­ma­toes, onions, cap­sicum, cab­bages, pota­toes, chil­lies, cu­cum­bers and pas­sion among other fruits

Re­lated News:Tana River farmer who pro­duces 30 tonnes of chilli a sea­son, in need of con­tract­ors to grow more

Plant­ing Re­quire­ments

Chil­lies should be es­tab­lished on a nurs­ery bed. The seed rate can be about 75g/acre

Nurs­ery site se­lec­tion:

  • The nurs­ery should be sited on a plot where a mem­ber of So­lanaceae plant fam­ily (to­mato, potato, pep­pers, egg­plants) has not been planted for at least three years. If this is im­possible, proper soil fu­mig­a­tion should be con­duc­ted.
  • The chosen site should have rich, well-drained, fri­able soils
  • Choose an area near a water source and pro­tec­ted from an­im­als

Nurs­ery es­tab­lish­ment:

Seed­ling trays are re­com­men­ded, es­pe­cially for ex­pens­ive hy­brid seeds, as they offer more uni­form ger­min­a­tion and growth.

  • The bed should be 1M in width by any de­sired length
  • The soil should be finely tilled
  • Mix soil with10–15kg of ma­nure per square meter
  • Sow the seeds 1.5cm deep in holes and at a spa­cing of 15–20cm apart
  • Cover the bed with mulch and water thor­oughly

Man­age­ment of nurs­ery:

  • Water once a day. Where pos­sible, check soil mois­ture be­fore wa­ter­ing
  • As soon as seeds start ger­min­at­ing, re­move mulch and cre­ate a tem­por­ary shade above the seed­bed of about 50 per cent, using a shade net or grass mulch
  • Mon­itor for dis­ease and pests reg­u­larly
  • Ger­min­a­tion is com­plete after one to three weeks
  • Seed­lings should be hardened off in the fourth and fifth week after emer­gence by re­du­cing shade and a wa­ter­ing fre­quency of three times per week


  • Seed­ling trans­plant­ing should be done five to six weeks after emer­gence (four to six-leaf stage)
  • Trans­plant­ing should be done at the be­gin­ning of the rainy sea­son to give seed­lings a good start
  • Water nurs­ery beds be­fore lift­ing the seed­lings with a ball of soil around their roots
  • Plant seed­lings when tem­per­at­ures are low

Re­com­men­ded plant­ing spa­cing

Spa­cing of 60 by 30cm or 70X30cm are re­com­men­ded de­pend­ing on the vari­ety

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