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A farmer holds fresh peppercorns after they were harvested from a plantation in 2014. Pha Lina

More products seek GI status

The European Union is expected to include Kampong Speu palm sugar into its registry of protected geographical indicators (GI) products by July, with the government now hoping the increased demand and added value of Cambodian agricultural products would pave the way for Kampot salt to receive the same treatment.

If the EU accepts the Cambodian application for GI status, Op Rady, director of the intellectual property department at the Ministry of Commerce (MoC), said that it would show that the Kingdom’s domestic production can achieve the same quality distinction bestowed to Champagne or Parmesan cheese.

However, he added that it was not an easy process for products to make it into the GI registry, costing millions in marketing and promotions as well as several years of development before they gain international acclaim.

In 2010, the MoC granted Kampot pepper and Kampong Speu palm sugar domestic GI status, creating a boon for producers. But it wasn’t until early last year that Kampot pepper received the same recognition in Europe.

“After we finished the registration for GI status with the MoC, our products began to become popular abroad, increasing in value year after year,” he said. “By designating certain areas and specific products for cultivation, farmers can thrive in the international market.”

The French Agency for Development (AFD) had provided nearly $1 million in funds to the ministry to guarantee that Kampot pepper and Kampong Speu palm sugar products met international quality standards and could be marketed abroad, Rady said. Without that funding, he admitted, it would be a hard sell for the government to do it on its own.

“We will continue to promote our GI products, with Kampot salt being the next product in line,” he said. “But we are still looking for funds to support the ministry’s process.”

Ngoun Lay, president of the Kampot Pepper Promotion Association (KPPA), said that even before the renowned pepperrecognised by the EU, domestic GI status helped stabilise the market and insulate it from price fluctuations. However, it wasn’t until the pepper was included in the European GI registry before he saw a considerable effort to crack down on counterfeit products.“Kampot pepper is popular in the international market, and we need the protection from neighbouring markets as well as the EU market,” he said.

Both Kampot pepper and Kampong Speu sugar were awarded GI status by Thailand last month, while the products have been recognised in Vietnam since last year.

“This further helps build market protection and the reputation of our agricultural products while maintaining the quality of exports,” said Lay, adding that it has caused local production to soar.

In 2008, when KPPA was formed, it started with a single company operating on 10 hectares of land. Now, the association consists of nearly 390 certified farmers and 21 companies harvesting 210 hectares of pepper crops.

Lay explained that before 2010, the Kampot region only grew black pepper crops that sold at less than a $1 per kilo. Now black pepper sells at $15 per kilo while white and red pepper were also introduced, selling at $28 and $25 per kilo respectively, he added.

“GI status transformed the market by encouraging farmers to focus on quality rather than quantity,” he said, adding that non-GI products were valued at 50 percent less.

Hong Hoeun, president of the Kampong Speu Palm Tree Agriculture Cooperative, said that since the product was granted domestic GI status, value increased from $0.25 to $1.50 per kilo over the last seven years. However, international recognition would create much stronger price incentives for its 178 members to increase the currently limited supply from 100,000 designated palm trees.

“Market demand keeps on increasing, but our supply is limited without protected EU status,” he said.

“Because of our limited supply, the market is being flooded with counterfeit products and we need to make sure we protect our reputation.”

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