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
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.
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.
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.
Ministry of Commerce says only small amounts go to Thailand. Pepper merchants
say small amounts also go to Malaysia, Singapore and Laos.
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
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.