In 1997, emerging female farmer Anita Morar decided to turn her hobby of growing chillies into a small-scale farming operation. Today her business Anita’s Veg supplies this little hot vegetable to many supermarket and retail outlets. Wilma den Hartigh reports.
In the summer of 1997 Anita planted her first crop of 300 chilli plants and today she grows about 15 000 bushes on one hectare of land on her smallholding just outside Walkerville in Gauteng. says the expansion of her business has coincided with the increasing popularity of the chilli. S tarting out with chillies was a wise decision as the crop is profitable and can be marketed in many different ways. “At every stage there is a market for chillies,” she says. When she started out, door-to-door sales and flea markets were her main outlets, but she soon expanded her client base to supermarkets.
Today she supplies Spar retail outlets in the north and south of Johannesburg with punnets, and Fruit & Veg City outlets with 10kg boxes of chillies. Privately owned vegetable shops also form part of her client base. Chillies that ripen at the end of the summer growing season are smaller because lower temperatures retard development. However, Anita uses these for pickling. “ I don’t waste any of the chillies,” she says. Even off-colour chillies, such as beige ones, get used – Anita sells them to pet shops for use in bird feed.
In 2004 she decided to move into the pre-packaged chilli market. Packaging the chillies limits handling of the product once it reaches the retailer and increases its shelf life and quality. Expansion Anita has considered entering into the spice market, but this would require extensive capital outlay and a very different type of farming. She does, however, sell dried chillies to shops for spice sauces. Anita would like to grow other chilli varieties in order to cater mistakes can be expensive. “You burn your fingers along the way,” she says. Anita decided to install a drip irrigation system when she started the business because chillies are very water-intensive crops. Unfortunately what she didn’t know was that using unfiltered borehole water would cause residue build-up in pipes. “For one month I worked with borehole water and all the drippers were blocked. I had to throw away everything,” she says. After discarding all the blocked pipes she found out that she could have used a chemical to clean the dripper lines. “It is tough being a small farmer,” she laments.
Keeping an eye on costs
Financial management is important in a small farming operation, and expanding the business will also require careful planning to ensure sustainability. Chillies are labour-intensive and labour is her biggest expense. Initially Anita harvested the chillies by herself, but now she employs three permanent workers and hires temporary staff to assist her during harvesting. All packaging is done by hand and about 900 to 1 000 punnets are packaged a day.
Economy of scale is another important factor to consider before introducing another variety, and Anita says she must be certain she can cover the costs. “You can’t start small. You have to buy a minimum of 5 000 plants,” she explains.
Secrets to success
Consistent supply and good-quality chillies are Anita’s trade secrets. “ Having a small business means I can keep my ear to the ground and get feedback on the quality of my product.” Anita supplies a smaller punnet on a weekly basis to maintain product quality. She says most retailers also prefer smaller punnets as they are in higher demand. Harvesting the product at the right time is also key for quality as chillies have a longer shelf life if harvested at the right size and maturity date. Anita encourages other women to farm. “This type of business can be taken up by anyone who has an interest and a small plot. Being small has its benefits,” she says. Contact Anita Morar on 082 552 1749 or (011) 903 7107. |fw