With a smile flickering over his face, Benon Olyech walks proudly around his five-hectare field of bird’s eye chilies, inspecting the plants. The 69-year-old farmer used to grow cotton, but the crop required a lot of work. He got tired of spraying expensive pesticides half a dozen times or more within just three weeks to boost his yield.
Mr. Olyech says that, when he was growing cotton, his soil lost fertility, prices were low, seeds became expensive, and there was less and less demand for the crop. So he stopped growing cotton as his key source of income and switched to bird’s eye chilies.
Mr. Olyech is from Awia-Um village in Lira District, about 400 kilometres from Kampala, the capital of Uganda. He says he earns more money growing chilies than he did growing cotton. Last season, he sold bird’s eye chilies for US$4 per kilogram.
But Mr. Olyech explains that growing bird’s eye chilies has a few challenges. He applies pesticides to keep the seedlings healthy in their nursery beds. He says: “It is challenging when seedlings are in beds as you need to water at least three times a day, and also after transplanting to the main gardens before roots develop.”
George Ogwang grows bird’s eye chilies in the nearby village of Acekelatti. Mr. Ogwang is 54 years old. He started growing bird’s eye chilies to boost his income, and because he realized that chilies require less labour and inputs than cotton.
He says, “The challenging time is preparing the nursery and harvesting. Workers are afraid to harvest because, without protective gear, the chili dust stings their eyes.”
He adds that it’s hard to store the harvested chilies during the rainy seasons. He and his workers spread the chilies on a tarp to prevent them from rotting.
Erinah Omara is a farmer from Acan-Pii village in Lira District. She has been growing bird’s eye chilies for three years and is satisfied with the crop. She says, “I am happy because it has enabled me to buy an additional two hectares of land. I therefore count myself lucky among chili farmers.”
Martine Awira is the agricultural officer at Agweng, in Lira District. He says growing chilies is good for farmers, especially in times of drought; chilies don’t require much water or fertilizer once their roots develop.
Mr. Awira explains: “Chilies need water in the early stages of growth.… We encourage farmers to [try] this new crop because it doesn’t require many agricultural inputs and it can be harvested up to five times a year when maintained well. Above all, it fetches [more] money compared to other crops.”
Mr. Olyech harvests bird’s eye chilies four to five times a year, whereas he used to harvest cotton just once a year. He now earns up to 24,000,000 Ugandan shillings (US$6,600) in a year. He uses the income to pay tuition for his three sons at a vocational institute. He also built a permanent, three-room house in his village with the income from bird’s eye chilies.