AFRICAN BIRD’S EYE PRODUCTION
African Bird’s Eye (ABE) chili is a crop that can provide an additional income source for small scale farmers. The plant is a small bush that can grow to a height of 4 feet and sometimes more with a productive life of 2-3 years. The African Bird’s Eye Chili variety is one of the most pungent varieties of chili in the world.
It requires minimal inputs and its hardiness makes it very suitable for production in marginal areas.
- African Bird’s Eye can be grown with minimal investment. It is an excellent crop for small growers who can intercrop and use their own labour. Under these circumstances, capital investment for the grower is minimal.
- It can be grown on plots ranging in size from 1/8- 1/4.
The interest in ABE chilies is growing rapidly as farmers realize that there is a ready market, both local and international, for the crop e.g. Mace Foods, a processing firm based in the town of Eldoret in the Rift Valley, has marketing contracts with farmers.
Bird's eye chilies are used as curry ingredient, pharmaceuticals, organic pest control spray and in making tear gas. The chilies are processed to extract the oleoresins for sale to the food and pharmaceutical industries.
There are many different types of Bird’s Eye chilies however the small red types are required by the market. Select seed only from the recommended types.
The crop can grow at elevations from sea level to 1500m above sea level
- The crop thrives in areas with medium rainfall about 600-1,200mm per annum.
- Excess rain can causes leaf shedding and cause rotting
- Extreme water deficits can stunt growth and cause flower abortion and fruit drops hence irrigation is recommended where rainfall is insufficient.
· Chilies are warm seasoned crops hence sensitive to frost. The optimum temperatures for growth and fruit set are 20-300C.
· Night temperatures below 16oC and day temperature above 320C can however prevent/reduce fruits set.
· Low humidity and high temperatures cause abscission of buds, flower and fruit.
Light loamy, non-acidic, well drained soils are ideal for capsicum growth but with proper soil management, chili can grow in a wide range of soil types. Soil pH of 4.3-9.7 is well tolerated. However the optimum is pH is 6.0-6.5.
- Production should be done in collaboration with the buyer so that the produce can be collected immediately after drying
- Get certified seeds from a recommended source.
- The size of farm should be determined by the labour available especially during harvesting.
- Site selection -Site should not have had any solanum related crops (potatoes, tomatoes, brinjals tobacco) for the past at least 1 year.
Chilies should be started in the nursery.
· Make raised beds, 1m wide and of convenient length.
· Apply manure and work these into the soil.
· Make drills across the bed about 10cm apart, sow seeds and cover lightly with the soil.
· Mulch the beds lightly and water regularly.
· Thin to 2-3cm after the plants germinate
· Remove the mulch when seeds have germinated and control pests and diseases as the need arises.
400-500g per hectare is required depending on spacing (about 20 grams of seed should give at least 500 good plants).
The site should be well prepared in advance and manure applied. The land should be ploughed and harrowed to a fine tilth.
Seedlings are transplanted when they are about 8-10cm high with at least 4 true leaves. Transplants should be set as soon as possible in the field to avoid drying out of the roots. Apply grass mulch to protect the fruits from water splash.
· Monocrop/pure- Recommended spacing is 45cm (within rows) by 60cm (between rows)
· Intercropping-Intercropping can supplement income from the farm. Spacing of 1 -2 m for intercrop production is recommended depending on the crop.
· Application of up to 10 tons/ha of Farm Yard Manure or compost is recommended depending on soil organic matter content (2 handfuls per planting hole).
· 250 kg/ha TSP or DAP may be applied during transplanting. Top-dress with 100 kg/ha CAN when plants are about 15 cm and later with 200 kg/ha CAN after 4 weeks.
Chili should not be grown after other solanaceous plants in the same field. Rotate chili with other crops e.g. tubers, legumes (cassava, sweet potatoes, beans, soya, groundnuts and bananas).
· Dry plant materials are laid on the soil surface in the inter row space to preserve moisture and smother weeds.
· This also reduces the need for hand weeding hence low chances of transmitting diseases such as bacterial and fusarium wilt through contaminated tools.
Aphids, mites, thrips and white flies
· Timely weeding to destroy host plants
· Use recommended insecticides
· Root knot nematode is usually a problem only in poor sandy soils so add organic matter before planting.
· Common diseases include Anthracnose, bacterial wilts, Fusarium wilt, late blight, Downey and Powder mildews and rust.
· Virus infections (tobacco mosaic virus, cucumber mosaic virus) are a major factor in reducing the productive life of commercial chili fields.
· Remedial measures to disease attacks include; use of certified seeds and ensuring field hygiene
· Remove virus-diseased plants (mottled leaves, stunted) from the field
· Practicing crop rotation
· Applying fungicides for fungal infections
· The fruits are ready for first picking between 2 1/2 to 3 months after transplanting.
· Picking continues for 3 to 4 months and it is recommended to harvest all the red ripe chilies as soon as they appear.
· Harvesting can be done once or twice a week.
· Harvest mature, deep red fruits only of length not more than 2 cm. Chilies should be picked without stalks.
· Damaged, overripe, or green chilies should not be taken to the dryer.
· The fruit should be picked early in the day after dew evaporates from the plant.
· It is far more profitable to harvest all the fruit from a few plants than half of the fruit from many plants.
· Depending on management yields of 1,000 kg to 3,000 kg per acre can be achieved.
· Well-managed farms should be able to yield at least 600 grams of fresh chili per plant per year or 200 grams of dried chili.
· A well maintained crop should produce up to 3 tons of chili per acre.
Post Harvest Handling
· Drying takes 3 to 4 days depending on the weather.
· Do not dry chilies on the ground. The fruits are dried above the ground usually on a rack with free movement of air (jute perforated material on top of the drying rack may be used).
· Do not dry directly in the sun/open to avoid rain damage and sunburn.
· Fruits should be shriveled yet not brittle (moisture content of 7.5 to 8 percent)
· This can take place while drying to save time.
· The graded chili is moved to the lower shelf of the drying rack for two to three days.
Packing and storage
· Use gunny bags or locally woven baskets for storage but not polyethylene.
· On-farm storage without adequate storage facilities is not encourage
Challenges in production
· Harvesting is the most labour intensive activity in chilli production. This has been a deterrent to large scale production of bird’s eye chili.
· It is advisable not to plant more bushes than you can easily harvest.
Advice to potential growers
· The market demands top quality and consistent product. Drying and grading operations needs to be maintained at high standards.
· Start on a small scale and expand production as you get experienced.
· It is important to plan production with the Buyer in order to ensure timely delivery of the produce after drying.