Chilli, also known as hot pepper, cayenne pepper or sweet pepper, is a member of the Capsicum under Solanaceae family. Chilli farming is a highly lucrative agricultural venture practised in numerous countries worldwide. Farming chilli originated in the tropics of Central and South America and is among the oldest cultivated crops in the world. Chilli farming produces high yields, however farmers have to be cautious of their climatic conditions, pests and diseases common in their areas and other resources at hand in order to make informed agricultural decisions, hence the achievement of higher yields.

Climate

The success of chilli farming relies on favourable growing temperatures. Chilli responds well to warm, humid climates with dry periods during plant growth. It generally grows better in the tropical and subtropical regions.  The advisable temperatures for farming chilli are approximately 20oC to 28oC. Temperatures should preferably be at this range for at least 4 to 5 months in order to achieve highest yields. Optimum night temperatures ought to be 16oC to 18oC. Chilli farming temperatures below 10oC are detrimental to the crop. In addition, temperatures of approximately 37oC result in poor yields. The ideal temperatures should be stable with minimum and maximum not being too far apart. Excessively high or low temperatures result in poor fruit set and loss of yield. Chilli farming can be practised in areas of varying altitudes, these are usually places from the sea level up to about 2100m. Favourable rainfall usually ranges between 850mm to 1200mm.

Soil Requirements

Chilli can grow moderately well in a variety of soils. However, chilli farming thrives most in areas with highly fertile soils. The favourable soils are well drained sandy loam soils. This is because chilli requires soils that support adequate root growth to enable efficient uptake of water and nutrients. Highly compact soils reduce the rate of aeration and root development. Soils should have a pH level of 5.5 to 7. The importance of organic matter in improving soil fertility can never be over emphasised. Organic matter promotes root growth as well as the capacity of the soil to retain water and nutrients. Mulch, compost and manure should therefore be added prior to planting. Inorganic fertiliser is also advisable, provided it is registered. Note that the application of fertiliser should be based on the results of a soil test which determines the type of nutrients needed in their respective quantities.

Planting

Chilli farming employs 2 planting methods. These include: direct sowing and use of the transplanting method. Direct seeding is recommended for areas with ideal climate conditions and well drained fertile soils. It basically involves planting seeds directly into the field. Some farmers prefer growing seeds in the nursery under controlled environments. The average growing time for seedling is approximately 30days. Seedlings should be transplanted when they have about 4 to 5 leaves. The space between the seed beds is usually 40cm to 50cm and 70cm to 80 cm between the rows. Seed rate is normally about 2kg to 3 kg per acre.

Land Preparation

Farming chilli requires proper and adequate land preparation. Water and soil with good properties should be availed in order to increase yields. Preparing soil for chilli farming involves the following:

Irrigation

Farming chilli requires about 600mm of water during the growing season.  Over watering causes water logging, lanky vegetative growth and flower shedding, and so irrigation should only be given when necessary. The ideal time to water chilli is around 4pm to allow leaves to dry before night fall. This is because wet fruits and leaves promote pests and diseases. It is advisable to use farrow and drip irrigation; when overhead is used, make sure to strictly adhere to the recommended watering schedules.

Soil Preparation

Preparation of the soil is one of the most important stages when farming chilli. Some farmers prefer to make use of seed beds where as some grow chilli on flat ground. When using seed beds, make sure the height is 20cm in the dry season and 35cm in the wet season. In addition, add mulch prior to planting in order to minimise leaching of fertiliser, conserve moisture and reduce weeds. Soil has to be cultivated by thorough ploughing; stones and gravels have to be removed so as to allow efficient plant growth. Ridging the land is advisable to avoid water logging and spacing is 45cm within rows and 60cm apart from rows. The ridges should be raised about 45-50 cm high.

Weed and Pest Control

Chilli is often attacked by various pests and diseases the most common ones being American bollworm, cutworms, aphids, beetles and spider mites. If not properly attended to in a timely manner, yields may decline rapidly. Weeds are also a challenge faced by crops in general and chilli is no exception. Weed competes with chilli crops for water and nutrients resulting in poor plant growth and low yields. Registered and specific herbicides and pesticides should be used to control pests and diseases. Mulching is recommended as a means to control weed.  Proper sanitation should include the removal of all the diseased plant material and weed.

Harvesting Chilli

Chilli is usually mature and ready for harvesting in approximately 90 days after transplanting. It is harvested according to different maturity levels. Green chilli harvests are usually 8 to 10 pickings whereas dry chill is normally harvested 5 to 6 times. Other varieties can however require more or less. When farming chilli, farmers need to be aware of the various stages of maturity so as to easily identify ripe chilli from immature chilli.

  1. Green Chilli – chilli is still green and can last up to about 2 weeks in cold storage. Fruits at this stage hard and crispy.
  2. Colour Breakage – chilli is not yet in its genetic colour but colouring has begun. Fruits should be kept at 16oC to 21oC in storage.
  3. Ripe to full ripe – chilli is completely coloured. Storage temperatures should be at least 13oC to 18oC and 90% to 95% relative humidity. Chilli is sensitive to cold and thus should not be stored at temperatures below 13o

A successful chilli farming project yields about 960kg to 1120kg of chilli per acre, depending on seed variety, climate, soil properties and overall care during the production stage. In order to maximise yields, farmers should take the following into consideration during the chilli farming period:

  • Selection of varieties with good fruit set under local conditions
  • Ensure appropriate irrigation management
  • Proper application of both organic and inorganic fertiliser
  • Use of good preventative spraying programme against insect infestation

Chilli farming is a fairly easy project that produces high profits. None the less, farmers often fail to get the highest possible yields due to lack of skill and knowledge to make sound decisions. Therefore, there is need for farmers to acquire tacit knowledge on appropriate crop management involved in chilli farming.