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Uganda: Farmers benefit from hot prices for chilies

Jimmy Oleng’s face is wreathed in smiles. The 50-year-old has earned a lot of money growing hot red chili peppers.

Mr. Oleng started planting chilies when he saw how much money a friend was making from the crop. He recalls, “When I started planting chili in 2010, the money [I earned] helped me to pay for education for my five children.” That year, Mr. Oleng sold 72 kilograms of chilies from a single harvest for 288,000 Ugandan shillings [$108 US]. He gets three harvests a year and earns 864,000 shillings [$324 US] annually.

The farmer is based in Kulu Hali village, in Lira District, northern Uganda, about 320 kilometres north of Kampala. His chilies are proving to be a good bet at local markets. The price of chilies is normally stable during harvesting season at 4,000 shillings [$1.50 US] per kilogram.

In comparison, a kilogram of maize sells for as little as 200 shillings [8 US cents] if there is a glut in the market, and sunflower seeds fetch about 800 shillings per kilogram [30 US cents].

Mr. Oleng has made the best use of his small parcel of land, 40 metres by 30 metres, or just over one-tenth of a hectare. His pepper bushes mature three months after planting, and can be harvested for two to three years before the plants are no longer viable.

Mr. Oleng’s wife, Adongo, helps out on the farm. She says, “The seedling is planted on a nursery bed for roughly one month before [being trans-] planted in a garden.” She weeds the chilies twice a season before harvest.

This year, Mr. Oleng spent only 2,500 shillings [about $1 US] on chili seeds, but expects to receive more than 300,000 shillings [$113 US]. He has found enough money to buy some land, and wants to plant more chilies to increase his earnings.

Hellen Acam is the director of the North East Chili Producers’ Association, or NECPA. The association was formed in 1998, and now has 150 member groups. She says, “[I] started promoting the growing of chili to improve the lives of farmers.”

NECPA buys about 300 tonnes of chilies a year from farmers in northern Uganda, and sells it for export to countries such as India and China.

Mrs. Acam says the association is seeking financial assistance to help develop post-harvest handling practices. NECPA is also looking into fair trade certification to help its members benefit further from chili peppers.

Mr. Oleng is happy with the money he makes from his chili bushes. He says, “I suggest that chilies are [a] good bet for farmers without much land to spare.”