Production and Marketing
Paprika belongs to the species of Capsicum annuum, which includes both pungent and sweet peppers. Peppers belong to the larger family of Solanaceae which includes tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum), tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum) and “Irish” potato (Solanum tuberosum). This is of very practical importance because paprika suffers many diseases common to these plants such as Potato virus Y and cucumber mosaic and tobacco mosaic viruses. Hence the above crops are not suitable for a rotation within 3 years and preferably should not be grown close to paprika. Capsicum fruits owe their pungency to the presence of a volatile phenolic compound called capsaicin. Pungency, in reference to paprika, means degree of hotness. Pungency, along with the color, primarily determine the grade and price of the paprika, so it is very important. Some paprikas are “sweet” (lack pungency), other paprikas are “hot” (have various levels of pungency). Paprika is high in vitamin C and also contains vitamins A and E.
Paprika can be cultivated from sea level to 1,500 meters. Optimum temperatures are from 24-32°C (75-90°F). Plants do not thrive in cool temperatures and the flowers are killed by frost. They like a loamy soil with good water holding capacity. It will not tolerate sandy soils with constant water stress. Paprika can be grown either in the rainy season or in the dry season on residual moisture in lowland areas.
Seeds are planted in a nursery and transplanted at about 5 weeks. The transplanting is tricky and labor intensive; the seedlings have to be properly hardened off, removed without damaging the roots, and replanted with the taproot down to prevent curl. Transplanting is best done on a cloudy day in very moist soil. Because of the difficulty of this operation, some farmers in Mozambique have elected to plant seed directly into the field and then thin to the desired population, but most now transplant.
Paprika plants are delicate in the early stages and should be watered if rainfall is irregular. Most guides recommend 80,000 plants/ha. The field should be ridged to protect plants from excess water in the rainy season and channel water to plants in the dry season if irrigation is available. Paprika is a poor competitor and susceptible to a number of pests and diseases. Weeding needs to be done diligently. We have not used pesticides in Mozambique but it would be advantageous to have them on hand. Paprika is responsive to fertilizer but we have had good success in fertile lowland soils without fertilizers. If nitrogen is applied, frequent topdressings are preferable as paprika roots are not extensive and nitrogen deficiency can quickly set in.
As with any new crop, it has taken both our extension agents and farmers a couple of years of trial and error to get the cultural practices correct.
Harvest and Post Harvest
It takes about 2 months for the fruits to turn from green to dark maroon. In the first years our farmers were picking too early and losing money because of lower color content. Fruits should be picked when they are dark maroon and beginning to wrinkle. Picking is quicker when the fruits are dry and the drying process is also quicker (7 days or less).
Fruits should be washed if dirty and de-stalked (remove petiole and seed) and split to facilitate drying. If orange or red pods fall from the plant they can be split, dried and sold as lower grade paprika. It is best not to use jute bags as the jute fibers get on the paprika and lower the quality. Washed fertilizer bags or polyethylene bags are better. Paprika should be stored in a cool dry place and sold as soon as possible. Rats like paprika so care must be taken to protect the crop. The color also deteriorates in storage, which decreases the value of the crop.
Paprika is an important ingredient in foods both for its flavor and coloring properties. In Europe the Spanish are the biggest buyers and consumers of paprika. Paprika is an ingredient in many Spanish, Hungarian and Mexican foods and markets are growing. In addition, a natural food color, called an oleoresin, is extracted from dried paprika with a solvent. Because it is soluble in vegetable oil but not water, it is a valued natural red food color for fat-containing products like sausages, cheeses, salad dressings, shampoos and lipsticks. World demand for paprika is about 50,000 tons per year of which 500 tons is oleoresin. Demand is rising but a multitude of farmers in Southern Africa (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and South Africa) are switching from tobacco to paprika, which may affect prices.
Prices paid for dried paprika depend on the grade, which in turn depends on the ASTA levels. ASTA stands for American Spice Traders Association but the acronym is used as a measure of the level of capsanthin and capsorubin, natural red colorants in paprika. The procedure involves extracting paprika pigments in acetone and measuring the adsorption of red light. Paprika with a deep dark uniform maroon color (the color of red wine) has the highest ASTA content (>230) and receives grade A prices. Buyers can determine this visually. There can be 2-4 grades depending on the company purchasing. Orange or red paprika that is not uniform in color will receive the lowest grade. Diseased or moldy paprika is not accepted. When a paprika shipment is brought to the purchasers there are people who will taste the paprika to determine if it is sweet or hot. Hot paprika will be rejected here. This is very important because paprika for export is sweet and produced from hybrid seed. Replanting the seed the following year will produce hot paprika not suitable for sale. Hence paprika farmers are forced to buy new hybrid seed every year. In Malawi, prices for paprika are about US$1.10-1.60/kg for Grade A dried fruits, depending on proximity to export corridors to South Africa.
Paprika is one crop that is better grown with a company that is in the business of paprika and promotes the crop. The company furnishes the seed, buys the crop, and exports it (they may even spray the crop if insects are a problem). Since markets for paprika are in Europe, the company must arrange credit for purchase, storage, export licenses, shipping, foreign exchange, etc. The more exacting the market in terms of quality control, the greater the barrier caused by poor infrastructure and facilities like we have in Mozambique.
We were originally working with a local company that was buying paprika and selling seed (we were doing the extension). But the company was poorly financed and went out of business. That is when our problems started. We have had to help farmers take paprika from Mozambique to Malawi for sale. The sales involve transporting the paprika across rivers by canoe and renting truck space to travel to distant markets in Malawi where paprika is purchased. Not only does it eat a big hole in profits but also poor farmers do not like the trouble of having to market their crops in such a complicated manner. They prefer selling at the farm-gate even if prices are much lower.
We have had to purchase seed from Malawi to sell to farmers in Mozambique. Project farmers are harvesting several tons of paprika annually. But these quantities are not big enough to entice foreign companies to Mozambique to buy the crop. A company in Zimbabwe said that farmers would need to produce 40 tons in order for it to be worth sending trucks to Mozambique to get it. Having said this, I should mention that there is also money in paprika. Some farmers bought bicycles from the profits of the sale of paprika from only 0.05 hectares. We encouraged farmers to keep their plots small so as not to incur too much risk in the first years. On a per hectare basis, farmers can get 0.5 to over 2 tons of paprika/ha depending on their growing conditions. We have not given up on paprika production because several companies have expressed interest in entering the market in Mozambique. It would be a big advantage to them to have farmers who already know how to grow it. However we are now cautious and considering marketing and company involvement carefully before getting into other spice crops. END -discussion follows.
Additional Comments from the Editor.
We sent a copy of this article to Dr. Terry Berke at the Asian Vegetable Research and Development station in Taiwan for his comments. In the meantime we spent some time looking for a picture of a paprika plant without success. It turns out that there is a good reason we could not find a picture.
Dr. Berke writes, “Paprika is defined as a dried red powder. There is no such thing as a paprika plant. There are pepper varieties that are suitable for making paprika. The fruit size and shape is irrelevant, the only thing that matters is the quality of the dried red powder that comes from the fruit. Paprika can be sweet, mildly pungent, or pungent. The major producers are Hungary and Spain, the major importers are the U.S. and Germany.”
Editor: What do you think of his statement that those who save seed from hybrids have hot peppers that ruin the value of the lot? If hot is the dominant trait, I can’t imagine how it could arise from a hybrid that was not hot.
Berke: “A sweet variety should give sweet progeny, unless it is contaminated by cross-pollination from a hot variety. All the paprika varieties in our collection at AVRDC are open-pollinated inbreds, not hybrids. I suspect the paprika-export companies tell the farmers that they are hybrids and they can’t save seeds so that they can continue to sell them seeds year after year at high prices. I am working on a guide for production of pure, high-quality, self-pollinated pepper seeds. I’ll send you a copy when it’s finished.”
Dr. Hilton replies: “I have no doubt about Dr. Berke’s comments with regard to hybrid seed. Farmers here are told that it is special hybrid seed that they need to buy from the company every year. I phoned Mark Brag, the production manager for the outgrower program of Cheetah Paprika in Zambia (6,000 farmers). He said they only buy paprika from farmers who have purchased seed from Cheetah. Pungency is the main problem (from outcrossing with hot chilies) but also the company seed is treated with fungicide and is uniform and freer from seed borne diseases. I think I understand why they have this policy, as it would provide a more uniform, higher value product for purchase by the company. The company may also make more money from seed sales to farmers but I doubt it is the main factor.”
Dr. Berke continues: “The optimum temperature for paprika types is probably a little high, should be more like 21-29 C, although the night temperature is the critical temperature (as it is for all peppers). They can tolerate daytime highs of 35º C (95º F) if the nighttime low is 22-24º C (72-75°F) and adequate water is available. The plant population density of 80,000/ha seems a little high, we use 30,000 here, but if no mulch is used, a higher density would develop a dense canopy faster and shade the ground. The transplants should be grown under nets to prevent aphids from infecting the crop with viruses at the seedling stage.”
Dr. Hilton: “Mark Brag said they recommend this population density for (rainy season) dryland conditions in Zambia because of a 15-20% mortality that occurs at transplanting. Cheetah recommends only 60,000 plants/ha under irrigated conditions with mortality from transplanting at less than 10%. I asked our production agronomist what we use on our stations and what we recommend to farmers and he says we use 75 cm x 30 cm spacing for a population of about 45,000 plants/ha and getting quite satisfactory results. I found another extension publication from Zimbabwe that recommends spacing of 90 cm between the rows with two plants per station every 55 cm which is about 40,000 plants/ha. Perhaps a range of 30,000-80,000 could be recommended as a transplanting population depending on intensity of management with a note on the mortality that occurs in rainy season dryland conditions.”
Hilton, B. 1999. Paprika as a Cash Crop. ECHO Development Notes no. 65