Magdaline Ajowi a farmer in Rangwe village of Homa Bay County is making up to Sh1,000a day from chilli exports, ten times what she earned from maize thanks to a partnership with a chilli exporting company.
The farmer has traditionally grown maize which sometimes she intercropped with beans but always recorded low yields due to poor soils which made her to think for an alternative crop to grow her income.
She had become accustomed to watching helplessly her barren one eighth acre piece of land harvest after harvest. Poor soils as a result of over use of fertilizers meant that the maximum she could get from her farm was a paltry two bags.
After years of frustration a representative of Mace Foods, a company involved in horticultural exports predominantly chilli introduced them to the Bird’s Eye Chilli variety. This is the smallest type of chilli, which is about a centimetre long and red in colour when ripe. The crop has a ready market in the European Union.
After Mace Foods set shop in the area, agronomist Nickson Agao was deployed to the region to buy the produce from farmer and recruit other interested farmers to join in the production to meet the required quantity.
Agao then decided to engage the company to enable him train and convince farmers that the business was viable. Less than a year later, farmers in the region can afford a smile.
The crop only requires four months to mature from seed to fruit. It takes about a month at the nursery and once transplanted, it takes about three months to be harvested.
“We usually solicit seed from supporters of this project on behalf of farmers as part of the programme to fight poverty in this region,” said Mr Agao.
Magdaline now say they can now employ young men and women to help pick the crop, whose harvest is quite involving.
“We ship the chilli to Amsterdam in before it is transported to Germany, our headquarters.” Said Agao.
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A kilogramme of dry chilli sells at Sh100 and if a farmer delivers 10 kilogrammes a day, she earns Sh1,000 which is paid on the spot.
The success of the crop has opened doors to more buyers increasing the farmggate price. Mr. Peter Ouma Muga, an employee of East African Growers, now buys seeds for farmers and distributes to them free of charge.
He says this is part of the social responsibility of the company, which has given him some days off duty to assist communities in doing business agriculture as opposed to subsistence.
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Last year alone, Mace Foods collected 14 tonnes of chilli from the region, despite the fact that the crop was introduced late in the year. By end of March this year, farmers had delivered six tonnes which they describe as impressive.
The chilli is of high quality in the sense that its pong is high and its colour lively red, which sells fast in the EU market. No chemicals are used, and this makes Kenyan pepper stronger in the foreign market.
Magdaline and peers are now able to pay school fees for their children, build decent houses and buy themselves food.
Mr Muga said he had distributed about 500 packets of seed to farmers. He says that a packet, once planted, would yield 4,000 kilogrammes, which would translate to Sh400,000.