Kampot pepper has earned international acclaim for its strong flavour profile, and has enjoyed a surge in popularity and sales in recent years. It became Cambodia’s first product to be recognised with a Geographical Indication (GI) from the European Union in 2016. But even as more farmers and distributors have joined the Kampot Pepper Promotion Association (KPPA), climate change hurt this year’s harvest, resulting in a 26-percent drop in the total haul compared to last year. The Post’s Cheng Sokhorng spoke with KPPA President Ngoun Lay about what the association does, and how it plans to adapt to climate change in the future.
What does the Kampot Pepper Promotion Association do for its members? What are the organisation’s main activities?
The Kampot Pepper Promotion Association is an inter-professional association that was created on Octboer 3, 2008, with technical support from [French NGO] GRET and the Cambodian Institute for Research and Rural Development. It was part of the pilot project for the Geographical Indication Protection in Cambodia, a project of the Commerce Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry that was funded by [the French Development Agency].
The KPPA was created to protect and promote the producer’s know-how and the famous reputation of Kampot pepper, to ensure quality for the benefit of producers, traders and consumers.
The KPPA has added dozens of new farmers and distributors in the past year. Tell me about how you recruit new members.
There are several conditions farmers must meet, such as having at least 100 poles of pepper trees; filing an application; following internal regulations and a book of specifications about Kampot pepper; and passing an inspection of their pepper plantation.
For companies, processors and packagers, the KPPA requires companies to register with the Commerce Ministry, and apply to the KPPA.
This year’s harvest was lower than last year’s due to climate change. How does the KPPA plan to adapt to climate change in future harvest seasons?
The KPPA has plans to adapt to climate change in the future. We ensure that plots of land with pepper trees are close enough to a source of water, and are arranged to facilitate proper irrigation. We also make sure shelters are built and maintained on the plantation to provide shade to pepper vines.
Do you think climate change is a big threat to the Kampot pepper industry overall?
Yes, the KPPA is concerned and our producers are concerned, because it is a big threat for production.
How much pepper do you export to other countries, and do you expect that number to grow in the future?
We export about 80 tonnes of pepper each year. Exports to other countries is about 70 percent, and 30 percent is packaged as a souvenir in Cambodia. The KPPA fully hopes we will increase the amount of exports in the future.
What are some things that the government currently does to make the job of Kampot pepper farmers easier?
The government helps Kampot pepper farmers and the KPPA by enforcing the law, such as the GI law, to protect from infringement and counterfeit Kampot pepper. The government also helps promote Kampot pepper by preparing a nation workshop to disseminate information on the concept of GI to customers.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.