Kampot pepper, one of the Kingdom’s top Geographical Indication (GI) products, is under pressure as over-cultivation drives farmers to give up production, said Kampot Pepper Promotion Association (KPPA) president Nguon Lay.

Lay said farmers’ production has continued to increase annually despite the volume of orders remaining the same, which has created an oversupply of the crop.

In 2017, annual exports were around 70 tonnes with production reaching 102 tonnes, he said, adding that farmers can only sell part of their total output.

“Our pepper is saturated, little is sold on the market and our production has exceeded demand. Now, there are only smallholder farmers and large companies which continue their efforts to cultivate [the crop].

“Growers [with large plots of land] who do not have their own packaging machinery have exhausted their capital. It’s been three years since they’ve been able to sell [their crop]. Their containers are full of pepper,” said Lay.

He said the pepper harvest season runs from January to June every year and as of last month, there had been no expansion of the crop.

“Today, most companies which used to buy pepper from farmers now have their own pepper farms. They will only buy from farmers if they do not have enough,” he said.

Kampot pepper was recognised as a GI product by the World Trade Organisation in 2010. The crop currently covers a cultivation area of 250ha, exclusively in Kampot and Kep provinces.

However, Pok Ly, a 70-year-old pepper farmer who has cultivated pepper for more than 20 years, said a lack of technology was the main factor forcing farmers to abandon the crop.

“Many smallholder farmers and large land farm owners have given up partly because of a lack of technology. They do not want to give it up but they always fail in production, they have no other recourse,” he said.

Ly said that as of June this year, he could sell only a little more than a tonne of pepper.

“There are still more than four tonnes left at home now, it won’t sell. But I will not give up on it. I can sell some of it, enough to make up for my expenses,” he said.

Lay said the EU is the main market for Kampot pepper, which accounts for 50 per cent. The US, Japan and South Korea account for another 20 per cent and the domestic market 30 per cent.

The KPPA’s membership increased from 387 families in 2017 to 440 this year, as distributors increased from 21 to 35 companies.

However, the Kampot pepper price remains stable, with black pepper selling for $15 per kg, red pepper $25 and white pepper $28, said Lay.

Hyn Piseth, deputy managing director at Confirel Co Ltd, a Kampot pepper exporter and producer, said counterfeits of the Kampot pepper brand are one of the main reasons buyers do not trust their products.

“Counterfeiting the Kampot pepper brand affects our pepper exports,” said Piseth.