Tears of joy for farmers adding value to chilli

Indian black crows can be heard cawing and rattling from the top of a coconut tree on the farm in Rabai Chini, Kilifi County.

As they caw loudly, the sound bothers Mikahani Farmers Association members, who on this day are meeting at their newly established office to plan for their value addition business. The birds are a menace to them because they eat their produce.

Jonathan Chizamba, 48, the chairman of the group, says the crows target unharvested red chilies, which they eat.

“We have 11 men and 17 women in the group, whose secretary is Joseph Mashedo Kandoro and Magdelane Nyamoki is the treasurer. We were 35 members but some have died, others quit,” says Chizamba, adding that their initial project was cassava, which they farmed on three acres, investing Sh9,000.

But the crop did not do well as it had a bitter taste making them incur losses. They switched to growing African birds eye chilli chilli in 2013, and they also keep poultry.

They received training from the Kenya Agricultural Productivity Project (KAPP).

Adding value 

“During the training, experts recommended that we grow the African birds eye under a cooperative which we formed in 2014 with representation from the entire sub-county and each member was to grow the crop on at least quarter acre,” he says.

To grow the crop, they first make a nursery where they sow seeds that sprout in seven days. A quarter acre needs two packets of 100g each, which go for Sh1,600.

“Transplanting is done after six weeks in 6-inch holes dug in soil well-mixed with fertiliser,” Chizimba states, adding the crop starts to flower in 45 days.

For quality harvest, constant weeding is necessary to curb the plant from competing with chilli shrubs.

One plant produces 2kg of chilli a year and with good management, farmers produce a tonne from quarter acre in a year.

The produce is taken to collection centres across the sub-counties of Kilifi before processing starts. They started adding value to the crop in 2015 by drying, what saw them exhibit the produce at the Mombasa ASK show.

To process the produce, fresh chilli is spread on a black nylon sheet to dry in the sun for at least four days.

Stored in a dry place 

“When dried, chilli seeds detach and become loose. Then they must be stored in a dry place to curb moulds.

The chilies are later milled into powder,” says Chizimba, who sharpened his skills at the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute in 2018.

They include garlic, onion, vinegar, citric acid, salt, sugar, preservatives, rice spices, fresh tomato and starch in the powdered chilli, which is packed in plastic bottles.

Currently, they produce over150kg of chilli powder in a month, packaged in 250g,400g, and 700g selling at Sh120, Sh170 and Sh250 respectively. They sell their products through the cooperative and to restaurants and shops.

The cooperative buys fresh chilli at Sh70 per kilo and then sells one kilo of dried produce made from 3kg fresh chilli at Sh220 to Sh300 each.

“We are currently working on getting certification of our products from the Kenya Bureau of Standards,” says Chizimbi, adding that they recently received Sh2.5 million grant from the Global Environmental Facility.

Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation agriculturalist Pole Finyange says crows are difficult to control but farmers can use visual scare tactics, netting, and traps with baits.

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