Some farmers from Uasin Gishu County, Kenya’s food basket, have shifted to pepper cultivation.
In the fore front of pepper farming is a four acre farm in the county. The farm known as Rupa Fruits and Vegetables Farm is also introducing a farming revolution by contracting farmers to grow pepper on their behalf and getting paid.
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Farmers in Uasin Gishu have predominantly relied on maize production as their source of income. So embedded is the maize farming that generations in the area have grown associating themselves with maize.
Uasin Gishu falls under the North Rift, an area christened as Kenya’s food basket due to its high maize yield. Infact the area supplies 40 per cent of all maize in the country. But the over reliance on maize has worked against the farmers.
Diseases like Maize Lethal Necrosis, which has entered the country has been known to wipe entire maize farms. Failing rains have also interfered with the yields forcing the country to look for imports from neighbouring countries like Kenya and Uganda.
The volatile market prices and the exploitation of farmers by the middle men has dampened farmers’ efforts to produce more. But Rupa farm is changing farming in North Rift, a pepper at a time. The crop has been doing well in the area due to the fact that it is best suited for the growing conditions that favour maize production.
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The farm has invested in two chilli pepper varieties Tabiche which turns red on maturing and Carolina cayenne which is green. “Like everyone else in this area we were also maize farmers. But when markets failed and we couldnt get anything of value from maize we decided to focus on pepper farming as a test. It never dissapointed,” said Wilson Cheruiyot the manager at the farm.
The crop has been a hit especially because of its fast maturity, taking two months to mature and selling at Sh350 per kilo. It has a high resistance for diseases and a farmer doesnt to invest a lot on agricultural inputs like fertilizer. Rupa Farm for example harvests 900 kilos each week with harvesting happening year round.
The market demand for the two different varieties by different customer base has increased fortunes for the company. For example, while the green pepper seems to be a favourite among consumers, which has seen the company package them in small packages and distribute them to retail stores in major towns, the red variety is preferred by companies involved in making chilli sauce.
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To further motivate the farmers interested in chilli farming, they give the farmers free chilli seedlings and get them to sell the mature pepper at Sh70 a kilo on contract basis. Farmers who see the market value of growing pepper are dumping maize for the crop.
“Pepper is one of the crops that has not been utilized in the country despite a growing local and international market. If the farmers in this area can see the market value and move from just producing it to adding value, we can go really far as country,” said Wilson.