Pepper production in Kompong Cham province is set to expand as farmers in Memot district have formed a cooperative that is attracting international buyers, the cooperative’s leader and an agriculture expert said yesterday.
Although Kampot province’s pepper plantations are better known, Kompong Cham pepper is of high quality and boosted by exceptional soil productivity, they said.
Yin Sopha, a leader of the Da Memot Pepper Cooperative, said farmers hoped pepper exports through the new cooperative established in May would expand production area beyond its current 640 hectares.
“In the past [foreign buyers] only knew Kampot pepper but now they know us,” Mr Sopha said. “We hope that the next two years the farms will increase to 1,000 hectares.”
He said rising pepper prices in recent years had drawn about 1,400 pepper farmers to the spice, which is mostly cultivated in Dar commune, adding that he expected the cooperative to grow to about 200 members in January.
Klaus Glatzel, a technical adviser for German development agency DED who advises Kompong Cham’s provincial departments of commerce and agriculture, said DED had helped set up the organic pepper producers’ cooperative and established links with foreign buyers.
“For the next year’s harvest we will have connections to the very big traders,” he said, explaining that AVT McCormick, an Indian-American spice company, had visited the cooperative last year, while a representative of OLAM, a Singaporean food production company, would come this week.
Currently farmers depend on one local trader for selling their pepper, Mr Glatzel said. Although foreign buyers would pay the same price of $3.50 to $4 per kilogram of pepper as the local trader, who sold the pepper to Thailand, farmers would have better payment guarantees from foreign buyers, he said.
“The problem was the monopoly of the trader. Sometimes the trader did not pay [farmers] for two months” after purchasing their pepper, he said.
Mr Glatzel said although Kampot pepper was internationally renowned because it was favored in French colonial times, tests had shown that Kompong Cham pepper was of high quality, while the province’s fertile red soils were exceptionally productive, with plants yielding 6 kg of pepper per pole.
Pepper plants in Kampot province yield on average 2 kg per pole, while in Vietnam and India yields vary from 2.5 kg to 1.5 kg per pole, Mr Glatzel said.
“When I did a presentation in India, experts…were really astonished” about soil productivity in Memot district, he said.
Mr Glatzel said farmers in Kompong Cham produce about 6,000 tons per year, compared to about 2,000 tons in Kampot.
Heng Bunyi, director of Kompong Cham provincial department of agriculture, said a total of 2,500 farmers grew pepper in Kompong Cham, most of whom were smallholders, cultivating half a hectare of pepper on average.