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A spice worker sorts organic pepper corns in Phnom Penh in 2014.
A spice worker sorts organic pepper corns in Phnom Penh in 2014. Eli Meixler

GI status for Tbong Khmum pepper unlikely

With 72 per cent of Cambodian black pepper production coming from Tbong Khmum province, agriculture officials are calling for it to receive Geographic Indicator (GI) status to promote the spice for export.

Hean Vanhan, deputy-general director of the general department of agriculture, said yesterday that if the Tbong Khmum black pepper could get GI status it could rival its well-known Kampot cousin.

According to agriculture data, Cambodia has produced a total of 11,819 tonnes of black pepper already this year, an increase of nearly 20 per cent compared to 2015.

Tbong Khmum province alone made up 8,566 tonnes over 2,762 hectares of land.

“If Tbong Khmum pepper could be granted the GI protection, we could further export and add more value to our product,” he said, adding that the pepper was primarily exported to Vietnam.

Compared to the farmable area of Kampot, production capacity is limited, he added.

“So we should promote the largest production area and give it the highest value.”

However, pepper associations in Tbong Khmum province doubted that it would be able to meet the strict qualifications for GI inclusion given the lack of capital and human resources available.

Hong San, director of Da Memot pepper agriculture development cooperative in Tbong Khmum province, said that even though the province produces an outstanding spice, it does not meet organic or geographic qualifications.

“We need to have more capital and original pepper species for organic farming if we would ever be able to be considered for GI protection,” he said.

“About 95 per cent of farmers prefer to farm without organic methods in order to make sure we can achieve a higher quantity at a lower price,” he said. On average, Tbong Khmum pepper sells for $10 per kilo while Kampot pepper sells for $15 per kilo.

While GI protection is a good tool to promote local agricultural products to the international market, Soeng Sophary, spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, said the authorities would need adequate time to conduct feasibility studies to see if province’s pepper would even qualify.

“It is a good idea to promote any agriculture product, but we need time and capital as well as to develop its reputation in the market in order for it to apply for GI status,” she said, adding that the government had to invest at least $1 million to study the quality of Kampot pepper and define a geographic location.

“We do not have a budget set aside to study Tbong Khmum pepper,” she said.

According to Ministry of Commerce, the Kingdom exported 146 tonnes of pepper last year valued at $1.5 million. As of the first quarter of 2016, pepper exports generated $92,000 in revenue at just over 6 tonnes.

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