Balminder Singh Sokhi: Mechanical Engineer Minting Millions From Chili Farming

By Kimani Kuria

Balminder Singh Sokhi quit is engineering job to venture into lucrative chilli agribusiness. With recent developments in the Kisumu International Airport, Siaya-based Singh’s timing could not be better. Here is his story as told by WoK.

Transition into Chilli Farming

As a mechanical and automobile engineer, his job saw him work for three sugar companies where he reconditioned engines. With the entry of the Japanese second-hand engines, his business was threatened and it began taking a downward trajectory as his options to the clients became more expensive.

Additionally, in a recent interview, he said “I was doing mechanical engineering and automobile and due to late payments from the sugar mills, I abandoned the business before a friend in the UK tipped me to export chilies.” He would then go ahead and dispose of all his machines and got the capital to start out his chilli business as advised.

Requirements of Running the Farm

Singh’s farm is located in Nyabenda Village, Gem Sub County, Siaya County along the Kisumu-Busia Road. He notes that chilli farming is not labor-intensive nor does it have too many needs.

Chilli is harvested on a monthly basis and does not rely on a lot of water to grow well. On his farm, Singh employs the drip irrigation system and stores water for any arising needs depending on seasons.

On labor needs, Singh says that for his 4 hectares of green chilli (Demon F1), he maintains a permanent workforce of five workers and depending on the needs of a particular season such as harvesting and weeding, hires between twenty and eighty casual laborers. Fertile soil is also a requirement that Singh says is readily available.

Pests are an occasional challenge on the farm although he says it is always controlled. Moreover, Balminder Singh says that he is willing to help farmers in the region to set themselves up as successful chilli farmers and exporters of the crop. 

Meeting International Standards and Exporting his Chili 

After harvesting his crop, he went on to export his chilli as he explored foreign markets. He says that to ensure that they are exporting quality produce, he works very closely with the Kenya Health Plant Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS). Officials visit the 4-hectare farm twice-monthly taking note of what needs to be addressed such as pests and levels of input.

He states, “The plan we have is according to KEPHIS and that is what we follow, that’s where we get the quality for export. They also do audits to ensure that we have complied with the required standards.”

Highlighting the challenges faced, he said, “For the last three months, I have really suffered by transporting from farm to JKIA, and I have paid through my nose,” commenting on his former transportation plans.

Transportation costs from Gem to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport were incredibly expensive and punched holes in his pockets.

He adds, “Before the launch of the cargo flight from Kisumu, we used to take it to KIRDI in Kisumu, a government infrastructure which was introduced years ago, where we do sorting and reading before they are transported to JKIA.”

In maintaining the product’s quality, they are harvested and transferred to a refrigerated transportation truck as employees work together in taking records and packaging the produce.

Singh notes that green chilli must be within 8-10 degrees in temperature as it is a perishable product.

For red chilies, the employees at Singh’s farm dry them under direct sun, taking between three and four months. Alternatively, they go ahead and crush it into powder or flake it then store it.

Chilli International Market

Balminder Singh notes that Europe presents a big market for green chilli especially for the Indian restaurants there. Moreover, he says that regardless of the amount of harvested green chilies, all of it is exported and never lacks a buying market abroad.

With his experience, he notes that farmers in the region can venture into the chilli business as he sees immense potential for growth and a boom in the future. 

Kisumu International Airport Inaugural Cargo Export

Kenya Airports Authority made a Twitter announcement on the great news saying, “We are excited as plans to start airlifting fresh produce from Kisumu International Airport have been finalized.” The first of this airlift would be on Saturday 8th December 2022.

On Balminder Singh’s side, he would be the honored farmer to have 1.8 tonnes of his chilli produce exported in the inaugural flight. They were harvested and stored at the Peche Foods cold rooms near the KIA in readiness for the Saturday evening flight.

Commenting on the new development, Singh said, “Actually, this is a game-changer for all of us in this region. We are so excited that finally, we have cargo going from Kisumu so that we can get our brothers and sisters from the neighboring towns, and let them know that we have an opportunity now to export.”