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Farmers quit pepper amid oversupply

Chhut Bunthoeun / Khmer Times Share:
KPPA says about 25 percent of small farmers have quit growing Kampot pepper following the last harvest. KT/Mai Vireak

A lack of demand is driving a large number of Kampot pepper farmers to quit the crop, the Kampot Pepper Promotion Association said yesterday.

Many farmers are finding it difficult to sell their harvests, according to KPPA president Ngoun Lay. He estimates that 20 to 25 percent of small-scale farmers (those farming less than 3,000 square meters of land) have abandoned the crop after this year’s harvest season, which recently finished.

Mr Lay said an oversupply of the crop is causing farmers in Kampot and Kep provinces to switch to other crops like mango.

“There are some challenges that are forcing those farmers to quit planting pepper,” he said. According to him, the current oversupply is the result of buyers beginning to cultivate the crop, which started happening only two years ago.

“Orders from buyers have decreased substantially in the last few years because these buyers are now also planting pepper,” he said.

“For example, before a buyer would order 10 to 20 tonnes of pepper, but now they only need from 2 to 10 tonnes because they are also growing the pepper themselves. This is hurting farmers,” he said.

He noted that the crop is now grown in 290 hectares of land in both provinces by 445 farmers. Combined, those farmers produce a total of 100 tonnes a year on average, but buyers are demanding only about 70 tonnes a year.

A kilogram of Kampot black pepper fetches $15, while red pepper and white pepper sell for $25 and $28 per kilogram, respectively. However, some farmers have had to sell their black pepper for $13 a kilogram, red pepper for $22 and white pepper for $26, Mr Lay noted.

Low-quality pepper used to fetch $10 per kilogram, but now, due to oversupply, some farmers are selling it to Vietnamese merchants for as low as $2 per kilogram.

“It is better to sell the pepper at a low price than not sell it at all,” Mr Lay said.

Sorn Nol, 57, a farmer that grows the crop in 3,000 square meters of land, said this year he produced 900 kilograms but managed to sell only 300 kilograms.

They were sold to a French company that paid $13 for a kilogram of black pepper, $22 for red and $26 for white. The remaining 600 kilograms have not yet been sold, he said.

“I do not think I will be able to sell it because the market is now very small. I have decided to start growing mango trees instead,” he said, adding that demand for mango is higher.

“My neighbour has had the same experience, but I do not know whether or not he will choose to replace Kampot pepper with another crop.”

Mr Lay has promised to find a solution for farmers but did not provide concrete details on how the issue will be tackled. He said the association will hold a meeting soon to address the issue.

Harvest season for Kampot pepper runs from January to June.

Kampot pepper was awarded Geographical Indication status in the European Union in 2015, guaranteeing a certain price for the commodity in international markets.

According to the association, 50 percent of Kampot pepper is exported to the EU, while 30 percent is consumed internally. The rest is exported to the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

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