The regulations have been drawn up and the growers have been registered, but after almost two years of groundwork, the term “Kampot pepper” still isn’t restricted to pepper grown in Kampot, farmers and government officials said Thursday.
As with Champagne produced in France and oranges grown in Florida, a Cambodian geographical indication law would put strict limitations on pepper permitted to bear the Kampot label.
“The aim was to get the law drafted and passed by the end of 2007,” said Jerome Benezech, director of Farmlink, an agricultural group that connects Kampot farmers with buyers.
“Everything on the farmers’ side went on schedule, but the drafting of the law took a lot more time.”
In preparation, Kampot farmers have assembled a book of requirements for pepper growers, and the local agricultural association is registering farms. Once the government passes the GI law—which will also recognize the Kompong Speu sugar palm—farmers will work to get GI recognition for Kampot pepper in Europe.
“GI will be a marketing tool for Kampot pepper,” Mr Benezech said.
He added that last year, importers in France, Denmark, Austria, Australia and the US all bought Kampot pepper.
A GI designation could help to expand that market. “It’s a label that could increase the value of the brand,” Mr Benezech said.
He predicted that pepper prices would not change with a GI designation. Right now, Farmlink sells pepper at prices ranging between $12 and $18 per kilogram.
“It’s not a tool that will increase the price because we already have a high price,” Mr Benezech said. “It’s something that we need to justify that price.”
The Kampot pepper industry is only now recovering from the Khmer Rouge years, when many pepper farms were shut down to make room for rice farming, and pepper cultivation became something of a lost art.
In the early 1900s, when the pepper industry was at its peak, the region produced about 1,000 tons each year.
Now, Mr Benezech said, about 150 pepper farms have established themselves in the province, producing a mere 20 tons a year.
Although figures are not yet available for the current growing season, Mr Benezech said that said he expects production to creep up to 30 tons within the next three or four years.
Mr Benezech said that he knows several former pepper farmers who are looking to get back into business.
“They’re wise people and they wait to see if the market trend continues. They’re waiting to see if the prices go up.
Pepper farmer Nguon Lay, who is also president of the Kampot Pepper Farmers Association, added that a GI designation, “will prevent some people from falsifying our product, and it will help to promote the recognition of our product.”
He added that he is not worried about how long the government has taken to draft its GI law. “I think it is not long, because we’ve just been preparing this law for about two years, while other nations prepare for seven or eight or nine,” Mr Nguon Lay said.
A ministry official involved in the process said that the government just wants to get the law right.
“We have to study it clearly,” said Lao Reasey, the chief of the GI bureau at the Commerce Ministry’s intellectual property rights department. Otherwise, “Maybe when the law is passed, we have a weak point.”
He explained that back in 2007, a law was drafted based on French regulations, but before passing it to the Council of Ministers, the Commerce Ministry wanted to examine similar laws in other Southeast Asian countries and the US.
“We have tried our best with a strong commitment that we’re going to have a GI law,” Mr Lao Reasey said. “I expect that this draft law will be passed soon.”
He predicted that it would be sent to the Council of Ministers for review by the end of June.
In the meantime, Mr Lao Reasey said that his ministry would release a declaration on Kampot pepper shortly after the end of Khmer New Year celebrations. It recognizes the distinctiveness of pepper grown in Kampot and invites farmers to register their crops.
“Even though we don’t have a law yet at the moment, we have a declaration,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Rann Reuy)