At least 170 Kampot-pepper farm households have entered into contract farming agreements to supply the Czech-owned EU Land and Pepper Investment Co Ltd with 10 tonnes of peppercorns for the 2021 harvest season, according to the Kampot Pepper Promotion Association (KPPA).

Each year, the pepper fruit is harvested exclusively by hand between March and May until the southwest monsoon brings the rainy season from mid-May.

The KPPA has also called on its other member companies to renew their contracts with more small-scale farmers this year to help improve their livelihoods.

“We encourage other member companies of the association that are looking to expand their farmer reach and/or target area. The federation will facilitate and support them in their endeavours.

“All of the Kampot small-scale pepper farmers involved have voiced their delight at the company’s [EU Land and Pepper Investment’s] move to draw up these contracts and securing them a market prior to the 2021 harvest season,” it said.

One of them, Pov Pheng, who owns more than 300 wooden Kampot-pepper-vine stakes, said signing on with EU Land and Pepper Investment would help stabilise his market.

Now that he is on board, Pheng expects 2021’s yield to be similar to this year’s – at around 250kg.

“I am happy to have penned a contract with the company. And with it buying packaging equipment for producers in the area, I hope the pepper market will enjoy a healthy rebound,” he said.

On November 27, EU Land and Pepper Investment handed over vacuum-packaging equipment to Kampot pepper farmers at a ceremony presided over by Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak and Stepan Vojnar, charge d’affaires ad interim of the Czech embassy.

At the event, Sorasak called on all stakeholders to continue promoting Kampot pepper products in order to reinforce their competitiveness, reputation and quality and further build consumer confidence, to explore more markets and areas of cooperation, and eliminate and prevent counterfeiting and product diversion.

He said: “The company having delivered the packaging machines amid the Covid-19 epidemic is an immeasurably generous gesture that will ease the burdens and help through the obstacles that Kampot pepper producers have encountered.

He said the ministry is facilitating the application for “Kampot Pepper” international geographical indication (GI) trademark registration in 50 countries as allowed by the Geneva Act of the Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications.

According to the Geneva, Switzerland-based World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), the act went into force on February 26 and allows the international registration of GIs and appellations of origins “through a single registration procedure with WIPO”.

EU Land and Pepper Investment says it is a member of the Czech Republic’s Association of Social Responsibility, which it says aims to promote and meet the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It noted that the handover was part of the Pepper Field initiative that it launched in 2018.

The company pitches Pepper Field as “the brand of the finest pepper in the world – Kampot pepper. We are the face of our small farmers and a direct importer of this gem to EU”.

Its CEO David Pavel said: “Our goal is to go 100 per cent fair-trade with better logistics and marketing involved in the local business.

“We make sure all income stays with each farmer. As far as I am aware, there should be no other company so far buying Kampot pepper exclusively under these strict fair-trade conditions.”

EU Land and Pepper Investment added: “In order to boost its business plans in Cambodia, the company has took on board a number of innovations. Besides promoting online sales, it has also acquired technologies to lyophilise [freeze-dry] Kampot pepper.

“This process allows the fresh pepper to preserve its hand-picked aroma until it reaches customers in Europe.

“Moreover, the company is also discussing a close cooperation with KPPA in marketing and digital areas to set up digital communication channels and help spread the awareness about the Kampot pepper GI worldwide.”

On February 18, 2016, the European Commission (EC) registered “Mrech Kampot”/”Poivre de Kampot” (Kampot pepper) as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), making it the first Cambodian product to receive the status from the EU.

Any product sold in the EU countries purporting to be Kampot pepper must “carry the PGI quality logo from now on” which certifies that it originates from the Kingdom’s main pepper-producing region – Kampot and Kep provinces, the EC said in a statement.

According to KPPA, the book of specifications attached to the PGI designation bars the use of chemical fertilisers, leading growers to resort to word-of-mouth concoctions of natural pesticides made from local plants.

Its latest data, released in April, membership has increased to 455 households this year from 118 in 2010. But KPPA president Nguon Lay told The Post on November 4 that 68 out of the association’s then-447 households had abandoned the crop, accounting for 40 per cent or 290ha of the Kingdom’s total cultivated area.

He said the Kampot pepper market remains grappled with a supply glut and dwindling demand, and that some of the households cited “dying pepper vines due to lack of maintenance techniques” as their reason for leaving the KPPA.

He downplayed the effect that the lower membership would have on the supply of Kampot pepper products to the international markets, noting that production exceeds the 70-tonne annual global demand by “more than 100 tonnes”.

“We are trying to find more new markets in South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan,” Lay said then, adding that the European and US markets remain the leading destinations for the crop.

The April statistics show that land designated for Kampot pepper cultivation has increased from 10ha in 2010 to 290ha today – exclusively in Kampot and Kep – which can yield 82.78 tonnes of the commodity per annum, according to the KPPA.

At the same time KPPA’s company membership has risen to 38 from just 12 in 2010.

The number of wooden stakes – which farmers anchor into the ground for the pepper plants to grow around – used by its members has increased from 27,012 in 2010 to 727,317 this year.

The figures also indicated that prices have increased significantly. Black pepper cost $5.75 per kg in 2010, while red pepper was priced at $10 per kg and white pepper cost $12 per kg.

Lay said prices now stand at $15 per kg for black pepper, $25 per kg for red pepper and $28 per kg for white pepper.

According to him, the prices have not changed in five years. He has said he does not expect prices to drop as production costs remain high for those cultivating the crop.

Pharma Product Manufacturing Co Ltd director Dr Hay Ly Eang, the Kampot pepper trademark remains weak in the market and suffers from quality control issues. The KPPA’s selling price for the pepper is lower than retail market prices in international markets.

Kampot pepper sold in France costs $180 per kg, while farmers will typically receive $15 for the same amount, Ly Eang said in May. He said the price of pepper in the international retail market should range between $50 and $60 per kg, which he stressed would help improve sales and put more money in farmers’ pockets.

KPPA’s Lay said around 50 tonnes of the commodity had been sold as of October 31, leaving about 100 tonnes in stock.

With additional reporting by Patrocinio Rivera