Kampot pepper farmers saw a bumper crop this year with harvest levels up more than 36 per cent, but rain shortages have diminished the producers' chances of exporting their haul.
According to Nguon Lay, president of the Kampot Pepper Promotion Association (KPPA), more than 30 tonnes of Kampot pepper has been earmarked for collection, up from 22 tonnes in 2013.
“But it turns out, only 12 tonnes of the harvest is of geographical indicator (GI) standard,” he said, adding also that he had 26 tonnes worth of orders to fill.
“We have been asking for understanding from our buyers for failing to deliver the amount as ordered. Dry season this year has taken a longer time to end,” he added.
Due to a rainfall shortage, farmers in the southern province famed for its pepper production have been unable to produce the spice to the minimum size requirements stipulated by its GI status.
Lay said some farmers had resorted to building private water reservoirs in order to safeguard their crops.
Kann Sinouch, a farmer with 500 pepper plants on a 2,400 square-metre plot of land, said his pepper harvest had actually decreased from two kilograms to around 1.5 kilograms per plant due to the hot and dry weather.
“Pepper’s flowers just fall off when there is a shortage of water. The peppers did not grow well. We are forced to harvest pepper as it grows not according to the standard,” he added.
Last year, the output of Kampot pepper was also reported to have not reached the buyers’ target due to water shortages.
Chan Chesda, director of Kampot provincial agriculture department, said yesterday the government had proposed to farmers to dig out a 10,000-square-meter water reservoir in an effort to combat poor weather conditions.
“But farmers said that they cannot share their plantation areas for the pond,” Chesda said.
“There is no natural water resource available in the area. It is farmers’ responsibility to think about water resource for their pepper,” he said.
The “Kampot pepper” GI brand covers a very specific area: five of the eight districts in Kampot and one district in Kep where the plant grows in identical soil and weather conditions.
According to KPPA's Ngoun Lay, higher prices per kilo, and increased demand from foreign buyers are encouraging farmers to expand their plantations. Red pepper now is sold for $20 per kilogram, black pepper is sold for $11, and white pepper is sold for $14 per one kilogram.
“This year cultivation area has increased from 32 hectares in 2013 to 90 hectares this year,” he went on to say.
January to May is typically the Kampot pepper harvesting season.