I am Charles Kibuuka, 27 years old, a hot pepper farmer based in Namayumba Sub-county, Kyanuna County, Wakiso District. In 1998, when I was in P7, both my parents passed away and there was no one to support me through to secondary school.
I tried going to different schools so that I could be given a bursary and finish my studies but was unsuccessful.
In the neighbourhood, there was a man called Jonathan Sseviira, who had a coffee plantation and he employed me as shamba boy. I was being paid Shs15,000 per month, and I worked there for three years.
Sseviira had children who lived abroad and on coming back to Uganda, they came with seeds to start growing hot pepper.
He told me how hot pepper is good business and would make me some good money. I thought about it but instead sold the idea to my friends. Since I knew some of the customers, I would link them to the buyers and get paid on commission basis.
After five years working as a middle man, I realised I was not making much progress while my friends prospered. For instance, I would make them a deal of over Shs3m and get paid Shs80,000 for it.
So, I decided to start saving money. By 2011, I had saved a significant amount of money, which I used to rent a piece of land at Shs250,000 per year where I started growing hot pepper. With the experience I had, I found hardly any problem starting the business.
After four months, I was able to harvest twice every week for eight months. I linked with one of the buyers I had connected to my friends. He owned a company, Tropical Dynasty, that exported hot pepper. During the eight months, I made Shs45m.
After this, I then looked for another piece of land where I currently operate from. I rent it at Shs200,000 per year. With time, I got to know other exporters and that is how I got into contact with KK Foods Ltd.
Since they offered me a better deal, I decided to work with them. They offered me a contract to sell them all the hot pepper whenever I harvest.
I have been working with KK Foods for almost a year and although I do not operate on a very large scale, I am one of their most regular suppliers.
I deliver 220 to 300 boxes of hot pepper every week, prices fluctuate from Shs17,000 to Shs25,000 per kilogramme. On a monthly basis, I make about Shs10m (Shs1.5m is spent on labour and pesticides; I employ four workers).
I get seeds from the damaged hot pepper from a previous harvest and plant them again. It needs a virgin piece of land and to grow it, it needs the first three months to be during a rainy season, and it takes four months to harvest.
With proceeds from the business, I managed to construct a larger permanent house and relocated from the small house where I used to stay.
Earning a living from a thriving business, it keeps me going strong and knowing that I also offer employment which in turn benefits the workers’ families.
I have also got a small dairy farm where I supply milk to Jessa Milk Uganda and own a plantation of eucalyptus trees. The most interesting thing is also that I earned respect in my village, the people who know me refer to me as “Naggagga” meaning a rich man.
On the other hand, a major challenge I encounter in doing this business is transportation of the produce.
It is difficult finding a car to transport my hot pepper to the clients as there are a few cars in my village. I end up using taxis and I have to supply the produce in time to enable them prepare it for export.
I also face a problem of packaging as we are not provided with the packaging materials and hot pepper gets damaged easily.
Fertile virgin land is hard to get; with hot pepper growing, we practice shifting cultivation.
The land is only used once and then we shift to more fertile land. There is also a problem of pests, which destroy the crop resulting in less output thus decreasing the amount for sale.
On a normal day, I wake up at 7am and check on the pepper and the eucalyptus trees. I spend the rest of the time doing different errands or with my friends but my normal day ends at 5pm apart from the days that I have to transport hot pepper to Kampala.
Initially, I had dreams of living in the city; I wanted to leave the village but now I have a better life here.
I have acquired a piece of land in Nansana, near Kampala, where I am going to put up houses for rental income.
Expert's Take: What you should know about red pepper
To start growing hot pepper, one can get the seeds from the exporting companies; these are got from the damaged hot pepper then sowed again.
For one to plant one acre of hot pepper, they need 2 kgs of these seeds, they can always be got at no cost at the companies. One can get them at KK Foods Ltd in Naalya and Tropical Dynasty in Rubaga.
The seeds are first planted in a nursery bed and then transplanted after two months to the main garden.
Before one ventures into the business of growing hot pepper, they have to bear in mind that it is an annual crop, it requires a virgin piece of land and it is only grown for a year before moving to another piece of land.
This should be land where farming has not taken place.
Spraying can only be done once a week, for example every Saturday, as the week is ending. Spraying is not so important until two months after transplanting.
According to Mr James Kanyije, managing director, KK Foods Ltd, for one to supply them with hot pepper, they must have land that they use for farming and they must also know how to farm, if not they are trained to do so. The company registers all its suppliers; they have about 30,000 suppliers though most of them are small-scale farmers.
The hot pepper has to be nice and look shiny, and it must be very red and yellow to be accepted by the company.
For quantity, they do not consider it as anyone with hot pepper can be their supplier however small the amount. “For now, we cannot set a minimum amount of what one has to supply,” he says.