It is 10am as we set off from Mbale District to catch up with youth group engaged in growing chilli (pepper) and egg plants located in Nakatende village in Budaka District.
Upon arrival in this village about three kilometres from Mbale town, we are received by Joseph Wambuzi the youth leader who is also an agronomist specialising in horticulture.
He takes a team of journalists on a fact finding visit interested in knowledge sharing about agronomy of growing chili for farmers to get bumper harvest.
Wambuzi and a team of 11 other youth belong to Nakatende Youth Farmers Association which he initiated in March 2018 after attending skills training sponsored by AVSI at Agromax in Gayaza Kampala.
He takes Seeds of Gold through best practices of growing chili and eggplant and below is the excerpts.

What is chilli?
Chilli also known as pepper is a plant grown mainly in the tropical region and it grows well in humid and warm climate where the soil has to be moist all the time.
It can be harvested throughout the year depending on the availability of water. It is drought resistant and has a high demand on local and export market.

The land preparation
• It is important to keep the land moist because excessive rainfall can be detrimental as it may cause rotting of the plants.
• Black loam soil is best for growing chili and in case of other types of soil, irrigation has to be practiced to keep the soil moist.
• Pepper requires well drained soils with a moderate fertility to grow. The plants are tolerant to a pH range from 5.5 to 6.8.

Nursery preparation
• The seeds have to be raised in a nursery bed and seedlings transplanted into the field after one month.
• It is important to plant the seedlings in lines giving spacing of 30cm by 30cm for easy weeding.
• Get started for chilli production by setting up a bed. Dig the site meant for planting to make a raised square bed.
• Heap up the soil to level it up a bit, then incorporate in animal manure, and also get dry grass and cover it on top.
• Light up the grass later and burn completely, this will not only add ash minerals to the bed but it will also kill soil born pests.
• Leave the soils to cool before you can put in the seeds.
• Make shallow furrows on the bed and then lightly scatter the seeds into the furrows.
• Cover them lightly with the soil mixture and also water.
• Spray the bed with a fungicide and pesticide to enhance uniform growth. This will also reduce chances of damping off that comes with fungal diseases and foliar easting pests.

Transplanting chilli and weeding
• Seedlings are ready for transplanting when the leaves have grown between five and eight, usually this is after 30 days of sowing.
• Prior to transplanting make sure the bed is watered to avoid stressing the seedlings.
• The transfer should also be done in the evening when the weather is cool.
• Open up holes 3cm deep, broad cast animal manure in each hole, mix and then plant the seedlings.
• Cover the planted seedling with soil and spray the plants with a fungicide and a pesticide.
• A spacing of 60-75cm apart within rows and 20cm between plants should be maintained. Watch out for mites, leaf miners, thrips, and blossom end rot when the fruits mature. “Weeding can be done after two weeks from planting and once the plants are grown it is important to prune to avoid overgrowing of leaves. Compost manure is essential during the time of land preparation to boost yield,” Joseph Wambuzi explains.
• When planting make 2cm deep holes in rows in which to drop seeds.
• Water and spray with a mixture of fungicide and pesticide.
• Applying other growing aided chemicals such as easy grow and folia spray to boost its growth. “A spraying interval of two weeks must be adopted up to three weeks before harvesting,” the agronomist says.

Pests and diseases
The plant has challenges of pests such as thrips, mites, aphids and pod borers among others which can be controlled using processed neem seed mixed with water and sprinkled on the plants.

Harvesting
• Chilies are ready for harvesting about three to four months, though this may depend on the type of variety and the season of the year.
• As indicator of maturity, chilies will change from green to yellow to orange or red colour.
• Therefore the specific colour demanded in the market will dictate when to harvest the fruit.
• Harvest once per week by grasping the fruit in the hand and gently press against the stem.
• Make sure that you put on clothed gloves when harvesting as the chilli heat might affect your palm skin.

Market
So far the major market is the exporting companies which sell the fresh habanero and scotch bonnet chilies abroad.
One kilogramme costs Shs2,000 and the team is expecting bumper harvest in a bid to earn better.

Varieties
There are many varieties of hot pepper each with its own shape, size and colour usually red, orange or yellow.
The common pepper variety is Scotch Bonnet the Caribbean type which has a rich unique flavour.
Another common variety is the Uganda Red Bird Eye Chilli which is highly demanded in the export market for food and pharmaceutical industries. Long Cayenne has recently been introduced.
There are other chilli varieties grown for fresh consumption and processing, they include;
Habanero which have a light, fruity flavor with a searing heat that builds and builds.
Birdseye which is the second largely grown chill in Uganda, the plants are shot, narrow fruits tapering to blunt point that sits on the plant.
Thai hot these are very hot chilies, around two centimetres long. They start out green and mature in to bright red.