One afternoon in September last year, while inspecting their onehectare chilli farm, Mr Daniel Agawo, the general manager of Jim’s Fresh Vegetables, got a call from the Kenya Plant Health and Inspectorate Services (Kephis).
At first, there was no alarm as it was not unusual for him to receive such calls. After all, Kephis had his harvest. “Maybe the officials wanted more of the bullet chilli,” Mr Agawo thought, as he picked up the call. But to his utter surprise, he was wrong.
It was a chilling message that filled him with both panic and fear. All the pepper they had harvested and sent to the buyer had been rejected and they were staring huge losses in the face.
Nothing would be salvaged from the farm from which the company had expected to harvest between 40 and 50 tonnes of bullet chilli and earn Ksh100 at the farm gate price for every kilo. It was going to be a massive blow of nearly Ksh5 million. Mr Agawo was informed that the crop had been rejected because it had been attacked by a pest known as the False Codling Moth (FCM) and did not, therefore, meet European Union standards.
FCM is an emerging pest of economic importance to chilli growers and there are fears that this moth could drive the entire value chain to its deathbed. The nocturnal pest is wreaking havon chilli farms across the country, eating into farmers’ profits. Mr Eric Ogumo, the chairman, Society of Crop Agribusiness Advisers of Kenya (SOCCA), says that over the past two years, the incidence of the pest’s infestation has increased due to the changing weather patterns.
The pest, he adds, has now shifted to rose flowers, also causing major losses to growers. SOCCA and other stakeholders have embarked on an ambitious food loss reduction and safety initiative to help address the challenge.
Also known as the citrus codling moth and belonging to the Tortricidae family, it poses a great challenge to the chilli and citrus industry.
Once hatched, the larvae burrow into the rind of the chilli fruit causing discolouration at the point of entrance.
Inside, they feed on the pulp, causing premature ripening and fruit drop. “It bites the fruit when it is still young, making it difficult to detect during the early stages,” he says. The biggest challenge from the FCM is visual observation to estimate the loss. Studies and trials conducted by Kephis and implementing partners have shown that the pest has spread across the country, with Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Thika, Naivasha, Machakos and Kajiado counties recording high prevalence rates.
The biggest markets for bullet chilli are Europe and the Far East. But with the arrival of the moth, the possibility of accessing the European market is shrinking.
The EU has classified FCM as ‘quarantine pest’, raising the alarm over chilli imports from African countries, including Kenya.
In Kenya, the National Plant Protection Organisation of Kenya implemented by Kephis, has introduced radical measures to guide production. Chilli is big business in Kenya Many farmers grow a variety of vegetables such as eggplant, French beans, soft stem broccoli and okra for export, but for some, their main income earner is the chilli According to the Agriculture and Food Authority’s quarter one statistics