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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Indonesian order brings cheer to pepper growers

Indonesian order brings cheer to pepper growers

C AMBODIAN red chilli peppers are about to be exported to the huge Indonesian

market. Till now, Cambodian peppers have only been traded in an ad hoc manner on

local markets.

News of a 3,000 ton pepper deal struck by the Khmer-Indo

company Datam Group - chaired by Indonesian President Suharto's daughter, Siti

Hediati Prabowo - has got local growers working overtime. The roads around

Kandal are paved with red peppers drying in the sun.

Though nobody is yet

saying how much the deal will be worth, people are already concerned that there

won't be enough peppers grown this season to fill the order.

Kaou Chuly,

president of KCMKK Construction which helped broker the deal, said pepper

growers told him they can only collect 150 tons a month. Chuly said the company

needed 1,000 tons of pepper immediately and the rest later.

Lou Lay

Sreng, secretary of State of Ministry of Commerce, is also worried there won't

be enough. There are no statistics on pepper harvests, nor is there a real

market for peppers. Farmers just bring their crop to the wholesale Chba Ampov

market where merchants export them to Thailand, through Poipet.

The

Ministry of Commerce says only small amounts go to Thailand. Pepper merchants

say small amounts also go to Malaysia, Singapore and Laos.

Farmers

consider peppers the most productive yield. They prefer to grow pepper to any

other crop, they say.

In Kandal province, on Route 6 about 30 kilometers

north of the capital, the beautiful pepper fields are said to be the biggest in

the country. Peppers are also grown in Battambang, Kompong Thom, Sre Ambil and

Siem Reap. Farmers dry the peppers on the road and store them under their

houses.

Pepper farmer Pheng Kheng, 33, said in one month his family makes

about four chi of gold (nearly $200) from selling pepper depending on the local

market price. Peppers were more profitable than rice, at around 3,000 to 3,500

riels a kilogram.

"Since I got married seven years ago, our lives depend

entirely on peppers", said Kheng.

Kheng said if there is enough

sunshine, he can dry one ton in three days. If it's not sunny, one ton takes

seven days to dry.

"Every day I look up the sky. While drying I never go

away from the site, I wait to collect my crop."

Nhep, 45, said "It is

hard doing this kind of business, but it has a good price. We can always endure.

Though pepper yield is better than rice and watermelon, it needs a lot of people

to take good care of it." She said that the pepper yeild was better three or

four years ago "when the pepper trees were too fruitful to pick." Now farmers

had to pay for fertilizer and pesticides.

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