Growing Chilies

By Acayo Christine Gloria, Media and Public Relations Officer

Chilies belong to the Capsicum Annum species and are believed to have originated from South America in Mexico. Their fruits occur in many different colors but the major ones are green, red, yellow and orange. In Uganda, chili is mainly grown in the northern districts of Oyam, Amolatar, Gulu and Lira as well as in the North East sub-region because of the favorable climatic conditions. The major varieties that are grown include: Scotch Bonnet, Red Bird’s Eye-the most pungent variety, common in the North East and Long Kayen, common in the Northern region.

According to a concept note by Access2innovation, Uganda exported US$ 496,000 worth of chili and peppers mainly to the European Union market in 2010.


Chilies take an average of 6 months to reach maturity and fruits can be harvested for five years if the plants are not subjected to drought and waterlogging. In cases of drought, the plants are forced to lose their flowers and buds hence leading to little or no fruit yields.

During harvest, one hectare can produce up to 6 tons of fruit depending on the season-lesser amounts are expected during the dry season.

Growth requirements

  • Chilies should be planted in soils that are well aerated with good water holding capacities preferably sandy loams. These permeate adequate root growth to support the plant and equally supply water, oxygen and other nutrients to the plant
  • Temperatures should be between 20-35° temperatures below 10°C and above 40°C lead to stunted growth
  • Frequent light irrigation


  • Sow the seeds about ½ cm deep and 5 cm apart in a nursery and cover lightly with soil- this is to allow for easy germination.

Note:  they can equally be sown in the main garden by broadcast method although transplanting is highly preferable for better quality.

  • Spray lightly with water every day to avoid drying of composite- the main requirements at this stage are heat of about 30°C and moisture.
  • Seeds take about one month to germinate. Light and warmth are the major requirements for the seedlings to flourish.
  • Transplanting is then done and 2 days before, it is important to reduce the amount of water being used for irrigation. This is to harden the roots of the seedlings
  • Seedlings should be established in wet soil in the main garden and spacing should be 1 foot between plants and 100 cm between rows
  • Pruning by breaking the top should be done frequently to make the plants manageable
  • They should be mulched and watered every morning and evening

Stages of growth

  1. Establishment- this takes about 2 weeks and water level should be decreased as this will cause the roots to grow deeper in search for water
  2. Vegetative growth- this is when the first flowers and fruits appear and the amount of water should be doubled
  3. Fruit set- growth and water usage are highest at this stage
  4. Ripening and harvesting- water usage decreases and there are heavy loads of fruit on the plant

Pests and diseases

  • Bacterial spot, blight, phytophthora root rot, gray leaf spot
  • Insects, nematodes, fungal-viral and bacterial pathogens

During plant growth, it is important to spray the plants with both fungicides and insecticides to kill larvae that later turn to caterpillars which is laid by butterflies beneath the leaves.


In the first season of harvest, yield is not as much as the next seasons. When they reach maturity, chilies are green in color and this gradually changes when the color starts to break in. When they are fully ripe, they have a full color-red, yellow, red and orange depending on the species.

Fruits are handpicked from the plants and can be harvested in either the green stage or the ripe stage. They should be pulled upwards in opposition to the direction in which they bend down from the branch.

They should not be stored with fruits that produce ethylene such as bananas and the storage temperatures should be below 20°C.

For commercial use, the fruits can be left to dry from the plant or picked and sun dried. They can also be put on a string and left to dry. These can then be crashed to get chili powder.


In a year, an acre alone produces an average of 500kg of fruit and a kilo ranges between shs13,000-16,000 depending on its demand on the market. Ongom Johnson, a chili farmer in Amolatar earns an average of 60 million per year from the 8 acres of chili that he grows. He is looking to increase his acreage to 20 in the next five years.

Many organizations such as Care Uganda and Care Denmark are providing support to smallholder chili farmers by linking them to partnerships with an international supply chain where there is high demand for chili especially in the European and Asian markets. This gives them the opportunity to enter into order-based production as opposed to uncertain farming which is typical of many farmers in Uganda today.


  • Helps in fighting inflammation-suppresses growth of cancer cells
  • Lowers the possibility of heart attack and stroke rates
  • Relieves nasal congestion
  • Boosts immunity
  • Reduces insulin levels especially for diabetic people
  • Used as a spice in cooked and processed foods-manufacture curries

Sourced from Ongom Johnson, chili farmer in Amolatar