JIS News

With the ‘hot’ local and international market for Jamaican pepper, farmers are being encouraged to get into this very lucrative industry.
Howard O’Hara, regional marketing specialist at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), notes that there is a ready local and overseas market for the produce, which is not being filled by Jamaican farmers.
He tells JIS News that currently, farmers are unable to supply Walkerswood Caribbean Foods, which is one of the largest processing plants for pepper.
“They have a very high demand and hence, we try at RADA to get groups of farmers together, who will produce the crop to help to satisfy the market.because we would not want to know that they (Walkerswood) will have to export peppers from other countries, when the farmers in the region have a glorious opportunity to produce enough to satisfy this market,” he points out.
One such group is the Constitution Hill farmers from St. Andrew, who have established a communal plot. “They have gone into contractual arrangement with the Walkerswood Caribbean Foods and my duty is basically to assist them in terms of making them aware of the post harvest management as it relates to hot pepper and also marketing the commodity,” Mr. O’Hara says.
The farmers, in addition to others from Kingston, recently benefited from a workshop, where they learnt more about the technical aspect of pepper farming and how best to market the commodity.
Pepper, Mr. O’Hara informs, is one produce that is easily grown if the right procedures are followed.The marketing officer, who has responsibility for the parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew, St. Catherine and St. Thomas, points out that how well the farmers market their produce and service, along with efficiency in cost and delivery, will determine the success of their business.
Proper record keeping is also important, he says. “The farmers must know that record keeping is a handy tool and all farmers should ensure that proper records are kept. When you keep records, it will help you to identify the price,” Mr. O’Hara says, adding that the price is normally set by the market and is determined by supply and demand.
Pepper farmers also have to be aware of the proper measures to implement once they begin to reap the crop. According to Mr. O’Hara, a lot of crop has been lost through poor post harvest practices. “When the farmers plant the crops, they grow well but when they come to reap and handle they lose, in some cases, even more than 50 per cent. Our aim is to teach them ways and means and strategies that they can put in place to reduce this type of loss because it makes no sense to care for the plant and at time for reaping you lose,” he says, adding that a lot of the crop is lost through poor handling and improper storage.
In Jamaica, there are two major varieties of pepper, namely scotch bonnet, which is high in export demand and West Indian/Jamaican red pepper, which is used mainly for processing.
Mr. O’Hara notes that the pepper must be mature before reaping. “There are certain factors we look at such as the sign of maturity – you look at the colour, the firmness of the fruit, the stalk to see that it is not infested with disease. You don’t want to reap immature fruits because they will shrivel and you will lose a lot,” he explains.
He further points out that reaping of the fruit should take place about seven days after spraying. This, he says, is to ensure that there is no chemical residue on the produce.
The pepper should be removed from the holding area as soon as it is reaped to avoid over exposure to sun and rain. Reaping should be done in the cool of the day, preferably in the early morning or late evening. The produce should also be reaped the same day it is being sold. Bruised, infected, immature or over ripe peppers, must be moved from the lot.
Once reaped, the pepper should be packed in ventilated plastic crates and properly stacked for transportation. “Peppers need good ventilation in both transportation and storage facilities so when you are handling peppers, you should use shallow ventilated plastic packing crates. Farmers have a tendency to use fertilizer bags to package peppers in and this is a no no,” he emphasizes.
The peppers should be transported in the cool of the day and should not be stored with other ripe produce like mangoes, papaya, or tomatoes, as the gas produced by these fruits will enhance the ripening of the peppers.
The peppers will normally last two to five days at 27 degrees centigrade, and if the temperature is lowered, it can last up to 10 days. In transporting the peppers, Mr. O’Hara recommends that a refrigerating truck is ideal, but where not available, an open body vehicle covered with a light tarpaulin can be used, as long as the material is of adequate size to allow proper stacking of crates.
The grading of the pepper is also very important as this determines, which ones are used for processing and which are sold as is. The highest quality peppers go to the fresh produce and export markets.
According to Mr. O’Hara, the peppers should be a minimum of 3.5 centimetres wide and the length of the stalks should not be more than 3 centimetres, with the skin being completely free of spots, bruises or decay and chemical residue.
This category is classified as grade 1 while grade 2 peppers are of a reasonably good quality. “We don’t have a grade three as any pepper that falls in this category are considered as rejects and they should be disposed of,” he notes.
Fresh pepper, he says, is normally priced higher as it is graded in terms of shape, size and quality. He explains that for the processed pepper market, “what we want is the volume and basically everything is grinded and mixed into one pur