• In preCovid-19 days, Jacob Mbiti was not bothered by the market as buyers came for the crop at the farm for export to the ready European market.
• The farmers are crossing their fingers hoping that the situation will normalise following last week's easing of the economy and the announcement that international flights will resume in a matter of weeks.
Pepper (chilli) farmers in Mwingi North are hard hit by Covid-19.
They have not sold their produce to the Netherlands, Germany and United Kingdom since March when the coronavirus, which causes the disease, was declared a pandemic and borders closed to both local and international flights.
The farmers, who use the waters of River Thunguthu in Kyuso to irrigate their chilli farms, are crossing their fingers, hoping that the situation will normalise following last week's easing of the economy and the announcement that international flights will resume in a matter of weeks.
Jacob Mbiti specialised in growing the Bird’s Eye chilli variety. In preCovid-19 days, Mbiti was not bothered by the market as buyers came for the crop at the farm for export to the ready European market.
According to him, European consumers prefer chilli when it is green before it ripens and turns red.
But the coronavirus came and life for the Kyuso pepper farmers has not been the same since March. They have watched the crop turn red and dry up. They have been forced to uproot their cash cow and plant other crops that are easy to sell locally.
“I have incurred a loss of not less than Sh500,000. I was forced to harvest the over-ripe pepper and keep it due to lack of market. Now it is a waste,” Mbiti said as he showed the Star stacks of pepper which has turned white.
He has cleared his two-acre farm to plant other horticultural crops.
Mbiti pleaded with the Kitui county government to cushion small-scale farmers from the adverse effects of Covid-19.
“We urge the county government to support us as we diverse into farming products such as passion fruits and tomatoes," he said.
The farmgate price of a kilogramme of Bird’s Eye chilli ranged from Sh75 to Sh100, which Mbiti says was good money since they did not leave their farms to look for market.
Susan Makasi, another farmer in the same area, looked forlornly at her over-ripe chilli.
Makasi had partnered with 17 other people to grow the profitable crop. “Although every farmer sells their produce individually, farming as group helps our buyers to locate us easily and every farmer gets to sell their produce,” she said.
Jane Mumbe said the last four months have been challenging as they watched their ready to harvest crop go to waste. She is also uprooting the crop to replace it with those easier to market locally.
“We plead with the county government to support us to continue with our agriculture as we have been hard hit by the pandemic. The prices of fertiliser, seedlings and insecticides have drastically gone up,” Mumbe lamented.
County chief officer for Agriculture and Livestock Development James Songolo, who last Friday visited the farmers, said the county government supports farmers with seedlings and pesticides.
He said a way will be found to compensate pepper farmers for their loss.
“I urge the farmers not to give up pepper farming. I am sure the market will open up,” Songolo said.
- mwaniki fm