Hot on the chilli market

When the Morars moved to a plot outside Walkerville they had planned to plant a lemon tree or two and spend their days sitting in the shade. That was nearly 20 years ago and neither Dilip nor Anita could have imagined that their property would become the

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In 1997 Anita and Morar decided to plant 300 chilli seedlings on their 1ha plot outside Walkerville in Gauteng. Today they have a small-scale chilli enterprise and face the challenges and success that go hand-in-hand with a rural way of life.

“We bought the plot in 1989, but we’ve only been staying here since 1994,” says Dilip. “Ours was the first house here and we were surrounded only by nature.” Since the Morars moved to the area, several other people have also moved onto plots next to them, but the plots allow for a lot of space between homes.

Anita says she and Dilip started farming by accident. “There used to be a co-op in the area and they were handing out flyers on how to make a plot more profitable. One of our options was to start a vegetable garden. We knew nothing about farming except for the veggie patches we grew up with in our back gardens.

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There was a lady at the co-op who was very involved in the community and she came by and gave us seedlings. That’s how I came home with 300 Thai chilli seedlings,” laughs Anita.

It was trial and error from the word go. The couple’s first mistake was to plant the seedlings too close together and there was no space for them to grow, or for the couple to walk between the plants or harvest and clear weeds. In the end they didn’t harvest a decent crop, but they replanted and were soon doing door-to-door sales and selling their produce at flea markets.

“The following year we put in a thousand skyline chillies,” says Anita. couple stuck to chillies because the crop is profitable, versatile and has a long harvesting period. It can be picked when it’s green or left on the plants to ripen. Chillies turn red when they are ripe and then they can be picked and dried.

These days the Morars supply Spar, Fruit and Veg City and privately owned vegetable shops in the north and south of Johannesburg. “We deliver our chillies in 10kg boxes and 100g punnets,” says Anita. “This means the product is hygienic and has a longer shelf life.”

Dilip says they’re comfortable supplying smaller retailers because it affords them more control over the produce. “how most small business operate. We like to have quite a bit of control over how our product is displayed, so we are in control of the quality,” explains And along with economic success Anita has reaped other rewards for her hard work and tenacity.

She was a runner-up in the 2007 Gauteng Female Farmer of the Year, in the category Top Producer: Informal Markets. “Recognition is a bonus and the appreciation for our good-quality crop means a lot,” says Anita.

The challenges
he Morars have four permanent staff maintaining the plots where the chillies are grown and they are also in charge of harvesting. One staff member is in charge of packaging.Recently, after good rain, Anita admits the market was a bit messed up. She says everyone had increased production and the fresh produce markets were flooded with chillies. That meant the Morars didn’t harvest as much as they should have. But a harvest of at least 8t was expected for the season. Delaying harvesting, which they can do with the chilli crop, means they can wait for supply to diminish and the prices to go up.

“We have to find new customers and we need to find more medium-sized retailers and small fruit and vegetable dealers,” says Dilip. He explains that bigger retailers such as Checkers all have central purchasing and packaging depots and small businesses have to approach those warehouses. “We’ve decided not to do that as they would expect consistent large tonnage deliveries,” he says.

For most farmers rising input costs make it increasingly hard to make ends meet. “We do all our own deliveries and the fuel price increases have made it difficult. Fertiliser prices have gone up and even the price of our packaging material has skyrocketed. Last year, we paid under R200 for our punnets, but this year it’s over R250 for 1 500 punnets,” says Anita.

However, this season’s harvest will be nearly double than that of last year, thanks to an additional 10 000 seedlings. “We had 15 000 last year so it brings us to 25 000 plants covering almost 2ha,” says Dilip.The couple is also experimenting with a new variety. “We’ve planted 5 000 cayenne chillies. We normally have the skyline, which only starts producing around January, whereas cayenne produces a month earlier, so it gives us an extra month’s harvest.

The cayenne is also a bit easier to grow than the skyline and has a higher yield,” adds Dilip. “The cayenne is not as hot as the skyline and our customers have asked for a milder chilli.” Expanding the business .The Morars plan to branch out into a produce line with crops that are close to their hearts. “We have started growing traditional Indian vegetables such as okra and brinjals,” says Anita.

The Morars’ home is chock-a-block with chillies, which are also packaged there and Anita and Dilip have had enough of the crowded house. They plan to build a proper working shed on their property.“The Land Bank has gone through our books and granted us a credit loan to expand the business. This will allow us to build our shed, expand our workforce and perhaps acquire a bit more land,” says Anita.

Marketing matters
Making Anita’s chillies a household name would require proper branding. Since registering a close corporation, the couple plan to market their products under their own label. “We want our customers and prospective customers to become familiar with our product. We’re looking at a logo, labels and packaging. It’s a costly challenge, but we believe it will prove profitable in the end,” says Dilip. Dilip and Anita agree that the key to success is quality.

They say that it’s important to work hard at achieving a quality product because it becomes one’s best marketing tool. Dilip says good business principles include dependability and consistency. “As a small supplier, retailers are often reluctant to take you on because you might not be able to deliver when they need you to. Once people give you a chance, you have to make sure you deliver quality produce consistently,” he explains.

Anita says it takes hard work and lots of learning. “We’ve learnt so much from our mistakes and now we know everything there is to know about chillies, but it wasn’t easy. Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines practised everyday,” explains Anita.
Contact Anita Morar on
082 552 1749 or (011) 903 7107. |fw