By Cliff Chiduku
Over the years, chilli farming has gained popularity in Zimbabwe due to the high demand for chilli peppers both locally and internationally.
The country’s favourable climate and soil conditions make it suitable for the cultivation of various types of chilli peppers.
Chilli farming not only provides a source of income for farmers, but also contributes to the country’s economic wellbeing through export opportunities.
Zimbabwe’s diverse agro-ecological zones offer suitable conditions for growing chilli peppers.
Generally, chillies thrive in warm to hot temperatures, with an optimal range of 20°C to 30°C. They require well-drained soils with good fertility and a pH level ranging from 6.0 to 6.8. In Zimbabwe, provinces such as Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central, and Matabeleland South are known for their conducive climatic and soil conditions for chilli cultivation.
Several varieties of chilli peppers are suitable for cultivation in Zimbabwe. The most popular varieties are the African bird’s eye, Teja, Cayenne, Habanero, and Scotch Bonnet peppers. Farmers can choose the appropriate variety based on market demand, heat level, and intended use (fresh consumption or processing).
Prior to planting, the land should be prepared by ploughing and harrowing to achieve a fine tilth. Organic matter such as compost or manure can be incorporated into the soil to improve its structure and fertility. In line with the demand for environmentally friendly foods, farmers are encouraged to use organic manure for the crop. Chilli is a hardy plant that can resist pests and diseases.
Chilli seeds can be sown directly in the field or raised in nurseries before transplanting. The ideal spacing between plants is approximately 30-45cm apart within rows, with row spacing of about 60-90cm.
Chilli plants require adequate moisture throughout their growth stages. Irrigation is essential, especially during dry periods, to ensure optimal yields. Additionally, the application of balanced fertilizers at different growth stages is crucial for healthy plant development and fruit production. Weeding and pest management are also important aspects of crop management to prevent competition for nutrients and minimize yield losses.
Chillies usually ready for harvest 60-90 days after transplanting, depending on the variety. Harvesting should be done when the fruits have attained the desired size, colour, and pungency level. Good care should be taken during harvesting to avoid damaging the plants. After harvesting, proper post-harvest handling practices such as sorting, grading, and packaging are essential to maintain the quality of the chillies.
The demand for chilli peppers in Zimbabwe remains strong, driven by both domestic consumption and export markets. Chilli farmers can explore various market channels including mass markets such as Mbare Musika, supermarkets, food processors, and export opportunities. Value addition through processing into products such as chilli powder or sauces presents additional avenues for market diversification.
According to figures from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, export earnings from the horticulture sector’s herbs and spice section rose by 37 percent from US$2.4 million to US$3.2m in the first half of 2022 during the corresponding period this year.
Zimbabwe join Morrocco, Madagascar, South Africa, and Ethiopia on the list of top chilli-exporting countries in Africa, according to TradeMap. This can be attributed to several interventions that the were put in place by the Second Republic since its inception to stimulate the growth of the horticulture sector.
Last year, the government introduced the US$30m horticulture export revolving fund in addition to other incentives such as the suspension of duty on agricultural capital equipment and increase in foreign currency retention threshold, among other incentives.
Local farmers should take advantage of the operationalisation of the Horticulture Recovery and Growth Plan to enter into lucrative contract deals for the production of chillies as the country moves a gear up un resuscitating the sector.
Chilli farming in Zimbabwe presents viable opportunities for small-scale and commercial farmers alike. With proper knowledge of best agricultural practices and market dynamics, farmers can harness the potential of this high-value crop to contribute to food security and economic growth and ultimately the attainment of Vision 2030.
Word from the market is a column produced by the Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) to promote market-driven production. Feedback email@example.com or WhatsApp/Call +263781706212.