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Agri Overview

Chillies’ potential for better economic returns                 Home
By Khurram Ziaf, Qumer Iqbal & Dr Muhammad Amjad

THERE has lately been a trend worldwide to emphasise over the production of non-staple crops, particularly horticultural (vegetables) and medicinal crops, as these have great potential for economic returns. More emphasis is now being placed on marketing techniques.

Vegetable and spice crops have great scope. Currently, only six per cent of the total cropped area is under horticultural crops, while vegetables are cultivated on about two per cent. Demand of horticultural products is increasing fast. Chilli is gaining importance because of its high cash value.

In Pakistan, only two species viz. Capsicum annum and Capsicum frutescens are known and most of the cultivated varieties belong to the species Capsicum annum. Chilli extensively grown for dry chilli (powder) is also harvested green. There are many nutritional, medicinal and economic benefits of its production.

Culinary applications: Chilli is not only an important ingredient in food but is also used for essence production. It is used in foods for pungency and red colour while it also contributes in part to the flavor of ginger ales. Chillies are an excellent source of vitamins A, B, C, E and P.

Vitamin P in green chillies is considered to be important as it protects from secondary irradiation injury. These contain more vitamin C (340 mg per 100 gram) than the usual recommended doses; more at green stage than the ripened. Processed forms of chillies retain most of their vitamin C content, except for dried ones.

Medicinal value: Chillies are valued for their soothing effects on the digestive system, relief from symptoms of cold, sore throats and fever, circulation especially for cold hands and feet and as a hangover remedy. Chillies can act as a heart stimulant, which regulates blood flow and strengthens the arteries, possibly reducing heart attacks. Medicinally, capsaicin is being used to alleviate pain. It is the most recommended topical medication for arthritis.

The pungency in chillies is due to an alkaloid capsaicin, which has high medicinal value. Capsaicin causes prostate cancer cells to kill themselves. Currently, capsaicin is used topically in proprietary creams to treat pain and neuropathies, whereas formerly chilli-impregnated plasters and poultices were used.

Chilli peppers, especially hotter varieties such as Cayenne and Habanero, can also be used externally as a remedy for painful joints, for frostbite and applied directly to stop bleeding. They stimulate blood flow to the affected area, thus reducing inflammation and discomfort.

It is also used in homeopathy. A non-conventional use of chilli is in the self-defence sprays which are gaining popularity in the US. These sprays consist of capsicum oleoresin at ultra high emission rate which temporarily immobilizes the attacker. Besides all these, it is the compound that is the active ingredient of some of the organic insect and animal deterrents and the active component in the human deterrent 'Mace'.

Domestic production and economic value: Chillies are grown on an area of 38.4 thousand hectares with production of 90.4 thousand tones, with an average yield of 1.7 tons per hectare with 1.5 per cent share in the GDP. Sindh is the major producer of chillies followed by Punjab and Balochistan.

Pakistan earned Rs1.127 billion during 2003-2004 by exporting red chilli powder, whereas, export earnings from all fruits were Rs5.912 billion during the same period. This reveals the potential of this non-staple crop. Despite its importance the yield has declined from 86.5 (1994-95) to 55.8 thousand tons (2003-04) (Figure 1). This decline in yield is due to a number of factors including poor quality seed, mal-cultural practices and diseases like viruses, collar rot and phytophthora root rot.

World market for chillies: India is the largest producer of chillies in the world contributing 25 per cent of the total world production, of which only four per cent is exported because of high domestic consumption. Besides India, other major producers and exporters are China, Pakistan, Morocco, Mexico and Turkey (Figure 2). Major importers of chillies from Pakistan are Gulf States, the US, Canada, Sri Lanka, the UK, Singapore and Germany. It is exported in different forms: fresh chillies, stalk less chillies, green chillies, chilli powder and also as oleoresin.

Aflatoxin and chemical residues are two major constraints in the export of chillies to Europe, Japan and the US as buyers expect a high degree of hygiene and sanitation in processing and preparing chillies for export.

Export of red dried chillies from Pakistan has declined from Rs1.127 billion (during 2003-2004) to Rs846 million after European Union food authorities have detected the presence of aflatoxin (Pakistan Horticulture Development and Export Board (PHDEB).

The potential for increasing exports of whole, powder and crushed chillies in consumer packs is very high, provided we meet the stringent quality requirements of importing countries by preventing contamination from external sources during harvesting, post-harvest handling, processing and storage. This can be achieved only through an integrated approach with the collective efforts of farmers, processors and traders.

Future strategies and priorities: In the context of decreasing landholding of Pakistani farmers, production of non-staple crops like chillies seems to be most remunerative. In coming years, this crop can boost the economy if following steps are taken.

Farmers should be given subsidy to purchase all inputs and the availability of high quality seed of high yielding varieties or hybrids should be ensured.

By growing F1 hybrids, production of both fresh and powdered chillies can be increased manifolds. This will help to reduce yield gap between Pakistan (1.7 tons/hectare) and the other chilli producing countries like China (17 tons/hectare) and will increase export earning.

There is a need to produce local hybrids, which will have more adaptation than the exotic (imported) ones.

Off-season production technology to extend production season of the crop for about two to three months is evolved. It will also help farmers have early crop, which will benefit them by giving more returns, as prices are high in the early part of the growing season.

Disease-free seeds should be used by treating them with suitable fungicide like thiram or captan. During nursery raising, proper cultural practices should be adopted particularly the maintenance of proper soil moisture to avoid phytophthora root rot and collar rot. While after transplanting, proper insect-pest control measures should be carried out to check the population of sucking insects, which are the vector for viral diseases affecting the chilli crop.

To reduce aflatoxin contamination, some precautionary measures should be adopted. These include: picking and drying of fruit with pedicel (fruit stalk), avoid direct contact of fruit with soil, proper drying of fruit and storage of powder at low relative humidity and temperature. Furthermore, agronomic factors that may influence aflatoxin development like stresses, irrigation, cropping pattern, variety, date of planting, date of harvesting and storage conditions, should be studied in detail.

Courtesy: The DAWN;

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