Pepper is one of the important vegetables or spices all over the world. In Nigeria no dish seems to be complete without pepper. Apart from serving as spices, pepper is used to decorate food, to give it flavour or colour. Fresh pepper is found to be a good source of Vitamin C and calcium.
Experts believe that it has medicinal properties that provide relief for many ailments. For instance, it is said to offer relief from colds, sore throats, fevers, enhances blood circulation for cold hands and feet. It also regulates blood sugar and fights prostate cancer.
Pepper is believed to act as heart stimulant that regulates blood flow. It is also useful raw material in preparing creams meant for lessening pains, inflammations and itching as well.
China is the world largest producer of pepper with 10 million tons. It is followed by Mexico with 1.9 tons and Turkey occupying the third place with 1.5 million tons. Nigeria and Ghana top tropical production with 715,000t and 270,000t respectively as largest producers. Vietnam, India, Indonesia and Brazil are largest suppliers to the global market while the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia are the major destinations of pepper exports.
In Nigeria, pepper is massively produced from the Northern states even though that it grows well in the South West states and to a lesser extent in the Southeastern states. It is however interesting to note that despite the state of affairs, Nigeria still imports the commodity, thus indicating that there is high demand for pepper locally. This is not to talk about the export potentials.
There are different varieties of pepper in the Nigerian market. There is Bird pepper (atawere) which is short in length and very hot. The ripe and unripe are used in making sauces. Then there is the Red pepper (sombo), mild and comparatively thin and longer than bird pepper. The most common variety in the market is Atarodo. The small type is of it is hotter than the bigger type. There is also Tatase characterised by mild taste, reddish, often used to colour the food or to reduce the hotness of the pepper. Then there is the Nsukka yellow pepper or Ose Nsukka , native to Nsukka in Enugu State, that makes it highly sought after. It is the toast of many a housewife because of its distinctive aroma.
Pepper grows well in a drained loam and rich soil with warm climate. Waterlogged and alkaline soils are not good for growing pepper. To get a better yield it is better to plant during the dry season. This especially true of the Ose Nsukka. The makes availability of water supply inevitable.
Prepare seed beds with top soil and compost for raising nursery. The beds should be about 1 metre long with an about 1 metre in between. Add fumigant to soil mixture to kill pests, fungi and weeds. After 10 days of fumigation, water the beds and then sow the seeds giving 5 to 10 cm apart. You may use palm fronds to protect the seedling from hot sun or heavy rains.
Water the seedlings always especially in the evenings and ensure that the watering is not too much to avoid diseases. The seedling would be due for transplanting after 40 days of planting.
Prepare the land for planting by ploughing or harrowing seven days before the transplanting. If the land is not very fertile, make use organic manure. Many use chickens or pig droppings to enrich the soil. Uproot the seedlings and transfer to the area prepared for planting, giving appropriate intra-crop spacing and inter-row spacing.
Where the land is very fertile you may not need fertilizer. However, in not-so-fertile soils, you could apply fertiliser after about two weeks of planting. Select the appropriate fertiliser. Make a circle round the base of the plant about 4-7 cm from the plant and spread the fertilizer in the groove. Then cover lightly with soil. The second application of fertilizer is at 50 percent flowering. After applying the fertilizer, water the plant immediately.
Pests and Diseases
Pepper plants, like others, are not immune from pests and diseases. Some of the pests are scales and mealy bugs found majorly on the stems of older plants; coratitis capitata that eats the fruit flesh and borers found also in the fruits are other pests.
For diseases, there are the bacterial wilt which makes plants show wilting. Treatment is by removing the infected part and by planting disease resistant varieties. You also have the fruit rot which destroys the fruit by reducing its quality and virus that curls the young leaves. These pests and diseases could be curtailed by spraying insecticides every week.
When the pepper fruits mature, they change from green to red or yellow as the case may be except for the bird pepper that may be harvested green. The harvesting can be done once or twice a week.
Pepper is mostly sold fresh, making it a very perishable commodity especially with the mode of transportation that is prone to extreme temperature. However, it can be dried and stored. The dried ones have a longer shelf life. It could also be processed into powder which can easily be added to the food or soup either before or after cooking. Fresh pepper can also be stored in the house in a cool dry place for about a week.
Pepper farming in Nigeria is very profitable because it is an essential ingredient of every meal. That means that the demand for pepper is so high that farmers hardly meet the demand for it. Most of the farming is done on subsistence level. So anyone with sufficient funds can go into commercial farming of pepper. The market is wide – from local markets to the big cities like Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Enugu, Akure to mention but a few. If you want to make it bigger, invest in farming of Ose Nsukka and I bet you, you will never regret you did. Many are making millions of Naira farming pepper. Even those who are not farmers, make a lot of money supplying pepper to big cities. You could be the next millionaire. Right on, you will succeed.