A major exporter of one of Cambodia’s premium products has lauded the first commercial-quantity shipment to China, a potentially major market. The successful consignment has been tempered by future fears for the industry, prompted by climate shocks.

Thirty tonnes of black pepper from Sela Pepper left the Kingdom bound for China on April 20. It will make landfall in the city of Qingdao, in the eastern province of Shandong.

Anna Cai, director of Sela Pepper, told The Post on May 7 that the first shipment followed last May’s announcement by the Chinese embassy in Cambodia that imports of the Kingdom’s pepper would be permitted.

She explained that in order to export to China, the pepper must comply with the regulations of the General Administration of Customs of the People's Republic of China (GACC). She was pleased to share that her company’s products had met the Chinese quality standards.

"This marks the one-year anniversary of the announcement that pepper exports to China had been green-lighted,” she said.

“It was a remarkable achievement and a great day for Cambodian pepper farmers and for Sela Pepper. I would like to thank all the farmers for their hard work and careful cultivation of high-quality produce,” she added.

In addition to exporting to China, Sela Pepper also exports black pepper to around 10 other countries around the world.

Cai explained that her company has been operating for nine years, working with farmers to produce quality pepper for the local market and export.

In 2023, Cambodia exported a total of more than 6,000 tonnes of pepper to international markets, an almost 27 percent decrease when compared to 2022. 

The decline was due to a combination of factors, including the reluctance of farmers to sell their products due to low prices, according to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

This year’s hot weather and prolonged drought are likely to place many agricultural products, including pepper, at risk of decline, according to experts in the sector.

Nguon Lay, president of the Kampot Pepper Promotion Association, noted that Sela Pepper is a member of the association. He believed the first successful shipment to China had contributed to the promotion of Cambodian products.

However, he expressed concerns about a shortage of product for 2025, as this year’s pepper crops are suffering from drought conditions. He said there is little stock remaining, most of it from last year’s harvest.

“The situation for 2024 is very bad. Our general estimate is that 60 per cent of the pepper under cultivation has been damaged. Last year, there was too much rain, which rotted a large number of pepper plants. This year, we have faced six to seven months of drought. The resulting water shortages have meant a lot of plants have died,” he explained.

"I used to harvest eight or nine tonnes of pepper a year, but this year my plants yielded less than 200 kilogrammes,” he added.

“The other farmers in the association are facing similar losses. In 2025, we do not expect to produce hundreds of tonnes for export. If we can harvest 50 to 60 tonnes, we will have done well,” he continued.

Despite the challenges posed by natural disasters, Cai maintained that her company will continue to work with farmers to meet market demand.

“Obviously, this year’s prolonged dry season makes it difficult for the pepper crop. But no matter how hard it gets, we and the farmers will keep going,” she said.

Ngin Chhay, director general of the agriculture ministry’s General Directorate of Agriculture, acknowledged that recent high temperatures have affected the cultivation of many kinds of crops, with pepper no exception.

He recommended that farmers use mesh roofs to provide shade for their crops. They could also install water spray systems, which would cool the plants while providing hydration.