Nearly as common as onions or potatoes, peppers are a mainstay in Mzansi’s kitchens. Farming with peppers occurs in nearly every province, with Limpopo producing the most peppers in the country.
Scientifically known as Capsicum Annuum, the plant is said to have originated in Central and South America. The use of the plant spread across the globe during colonialism and became widespread in Europe and Asia after the 1500s.
In their 2017 census of commercial agriculture, Stats SA found that Mzansi’s pepper farmers planted nearly 3 000 hectares of the crop across the country, and produced over 74 000 tons. And this figure has increased over the past five years
We spoke to pepper farmers Thandeka Maseko, Eric Mauwane, and Tebogo Nyathela about the essentials of farming with the plant.
Where to start
Masego, a crop farmer from Middelburg in Mpumalanga, says beginner pepper farmers should rather buy their seedlings from established nurseries. She explains that if farmers do try and grow their own seedlings, they should get special compost soil available from a variety of retailers.
“Most of the time, it’s actually quite hard to grow seedlings on your own, especially if you are a beginner. What we do is place an order [at] nurseries. [To grow seedlings], you can get the compost soil and then you have to get your trays. You must actually put the nets on top of the trays, so that there’s not much air disturbing seedlings and no sunlight.”
The ideal climate
This guide by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) explains that the crop is tropical and cannot tolerate frost. Peppers only flourish in a moderate climate, with weather that stays above 12°C.
Masego explains that peppers are particularly sensitive to sunburn. To prevent this, there are different options farmers can use, as long as you maintain the plant correctly.
“If you are going to [grow] your green peppers on the field, there are chemicals to prevent sunburn. If you don’t want the stress of sunburn, you can obviously take them to the tunnel, or greenhouses. But if you buy the chemicals that will give your crops their energy to strengthen them, [ensure they are] not affected by the sunlight.”
Soil and fertiliser
Another guide produced by the ARC, explains that peppers need deep, fertile, well-drained soils to flourish. The guide also emphasises that peppers should not be grown in fields where corn or soya bean herbicides have been used, as the carry-over of these is extremely detrimental to peppers.
Peppers are slow to grow if the soil temperatures are too low. Mauwane, a pepper farmer and CEO of ONEO Farms, says that one of the biggest costs of producing peppers is upping the soil fertility.
“You must have a proper fertiliser programme, and based on your soil analysis, the agronomist would normally work out your fertiliser programme. It normally differs from one farm to the next. As much as it does differ, however, there are basics fertilisers.”
Mauwane says that the market for peppers is great, especially in winter. He explains that there are no producers who are really dominating the pepper market.
“The pepper market looks great between November and December, and again from April up until August, so there’s a huge demand for the peppers in winter. And that’s because a lot of us are out of production around that time. Prices are looking awesome, not just looking good, in winter. “
It is very important for pepper farmers to have a proper irrigation schedule that they stick to, Maseko explains.
“You cannot irrigate at 7:00 in the morning, then 11:00, and then tomorrow, changing all the time. Stick to your schedule so that your crops get used to it.”
Nyathela, from Farmer’s Hope in North West, agrees. She explains that drip irrigation is the best way to water pepper crops, as it allows farmers to measure exactly how much water is going into their crops.
“[Peppers do] not need too much water, otherwise it might cause some serious problems. Last year, [we] experienced lots of rain in November, December, and January, which was not good at all for the peppers, so at least the drip irrigation helps to measure the water.”
An excess of water limits the flower and fruit formation of pepper crops, and can eventually lead to root rot, which occurs when the plants are waterlogged for more than 12 hours.
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