Six years ago, a horticulture farm along Kiambu-Limuru road in Nairobi county abandoned production of greenhouse tomatoes due to fluctuating market prices.
According to John Macharia, farm manager, Blooming Greene Ltd, they had to find an alternative and Lafayette yellow capsicum presented the best bet.
“We had been trying different varieties of capsicum to get maximum and desirable production. Different varieties of capsicum portrayed different characteristics. When we came across Lafayette yellow capsicum, we observed some attributes and that is why we stuck with it,” says Macharia.
The company produces up to 48 tonnes per hectare from the small areas planted in the greenhouse, compared to the national average production per hectare, which stands at 35 tonnes. They also produce red and green cabbages, broccoli, lettuce, carrots and peas.
The 52-year-old horticulturalist says that they sell up to two tonnes per week at an average price of Sh100 per kilo during production peak, which usually falls between October and December, when tourists visit the country in large numbers.
“We supply 100kg-200kg of capsicum to supermarkets like Tuskys, Uchumi, and fresh fruit shops. But we have one exporter from Wakulima market in Nairobi who takes about 700 kg,” says the Egerton University-trained horticulturalist.
The average price of a kilo of yellow capsicum in the supermarkets is Sh243.
Yellow capsicum is rich in vitamins A, C, E and carotene. It is also used as vegetables, spice and garnishing.
Farmers in highland regions need greenhouses to grow capsicum, and should ‘understand the language of the plant’ to realise high yield.
“We have obtained actual results through observing and providing what the plant wants. In this farm, plant language is king. Our scouts [people handling capsicum] are able to identify the pests and diseases early enough and give them the right remedy hence increased production,” Macharia says.
Capsicum production is highly dependent on direct sunlight.
“If you have longer day lengths, most likely you are going to get higher yields,” says Macharia.
Powdery and downy mildew during hot and dry seasons respectively are the worst enemies of capsicum production, especially in the Kenya highlands.
“If not checked, it can defoliate crops in three days leading to massive loss in yields,” says Macharia.
Yellow capsicum is a high yielder because it has less foliage with very good fruit formation that is preferred by the market.
“It is also advantageous to a farmer, because the lesser the foliage, the less chemicals you use. Worse still, high foliage usually encourages pest and diseases,” he says.
Establishing credible source of seeds and knowing the market one is producing for is a major factor in capsicum production.
Realising a 100 per cent capsicum seed germination is always tricky, hence the need to follow the right procedures in the nursery.
Macharia says farmers in production need to design ways of propagation by doing seed clarification to avoid the risk.
“We have realised that buying pre-germinated seedlings is cumbersome and expensive. Gap-filling becomes difficult and that is why we decided to do our own seedlings,” he says.
According to Macharia, planting is done in paired rows with spacing of 45cm between plants and 60cm between rows.
Use of drip irrigation and mulching is also encouraged as it enhances water saving and keeping weeds in check.
For maximum production, Macharia says, farmers must have constant source of water.
“We have two boreholes that supply water to the green house for drip irrigation. Maturity period for capsicum ranges from 60-90 days depending on the variety. Harvesting continues for two or more months,” says Macharia.
Proper greenhouse sanitation and good agricultural practices would give a yield of about 24-36 fruits per plant.
Simlaw seeds chief research officer Robert Musyoki notes that market demand for yellow capsicum has increased.
“We have realised the uptake is good and the demand is overwhelming. We are now encouraging farmers to try capsicum production in open fields or green houses. The price per seedling ranges from Sh4 to Sh7, making it easily affordable for farmers,” Musyoki says.