Cambodia’s pepper farmers need to be more informed about their industry to compete on the open market when the country eventually joins the World Trade Organization, Sok Siphana, secretary of state for the Ministry of Commerce, said Wednesday.
“They are not organized enough to have a voice,” he said. “In light of globalization, we need to build up a strong production base in this country.”
Sok Siphana and other ministry officials on Wednesday met with pepper farmers from across the country at Cambodia’s first pepper industry forum to discuss pricing, quality control, pesticide use and access to credit.
The ministry is pushing for stronger production from the sector as Cambodia seeks to join the WTO in September.
Until now, Sok Siphana said, farmers have had no forum to collaborate on standard practices and prices within the industry.
Most of the country’s pepper farmers, such as Un Buntha from Sihanoukville, sell their pepper directly to traders who come to their villages. Since they have little contact with each other, individual farmers are unable to set their own prices and must accept the best price the traders offer.
In recent years, Un Buntha said, the price of black pepper has fallen to $1.50 per kg compared with $4 in previous years.
“At the beginning of this year, I was hopeless because of a decrease in the price of pepper,” he said, adding that he hopes for more government support for farmers.
The ministry estimates that Cambodia produces 8,000 tons of pepper each year, with 80 percent exported to Vietnam and the other 20 percent consumed locally. But Pech Sokpo, chief of trade promotion for the ministry, said the government has little idea of the scale of the industry.
“We have no figures…. We can just estimate,” he said.
Under French rule, Cambodia’s peppers were sold around the world. But during Democratic Kampuchea, the industry was abandoned, as the Khmer Rouge forced farmers to grow rice.
Andrew McNaughton, an adviser to the Ministry of Commerce, said he is optimistic the forum would help pave the road to a stronger pepper industry.
He said the ministry has arranged similar forums with Cambodia’s service and silk industries. It also proposes to hold a forum for the fruit and vegetable industry.