Farmers in Cambodia’s pepper-growing provinces are increasingly turning to produce the profitable crop as the price of rubber on the world market has declined over the past six months, with land used for pepper cultivation doubling in some areas, according to growers.
In Dar commune in Tbong Khmum province’s Memot district, one of the richest pepper-growing areas of the country, the number of households farming pepper has increased from 1,730 last year to 2,300 this year, while cultivated farmland has doubled from 600 hectares to 1,200, according to Yin Sopha, executive director of the Dar-Memot Pepper Agriculture Development Cooperative.
Mr. Sopha said most of the farmers have switched from rubber to pepper production as rubber revenues have declined due to falling global prices.
Revenue from rubber exports for the first half of the year fell nearly 2 percent, from $76.5 million to $75 million.
“Pepper is an agricultural product that provides high income because the global demand has become higher and higher and it can be sold at a very high price, while there are not so many countries growing it,” Mr. Sopha said.
Pepper production costs farmers about $12,000 per hectare and can provide yields worth between $35,000 and $50,000, he said. The crop currently sells for around $10 per kg.
During this year’s harvest, from March to May, farmers in Dar commune reaped about 5,000 tons, with next season expected to yield about 6,500 tons.
Kep and Kampot provinces, renowned for quality pepper, have seen a similar increase in pepper growing amid increasing international recognition for their crops, said Ngoun Lay, president of the Kampot Pepper Promotion Association.
In 2013, there were 265 families farming pepper over 90 hectares in both provinces compared to 300 households farming on 155 hectares this year, he said.
Mr. Lay said the approval and enactment in November of a law on geographical indication—a globally-recognized status given to protect reputable goods that originate from a specific region—has seen increasing demand for the high-quality Kampot pepper.
The pepper association has recently received orders to supply 6 tons per year to Japanese and U.S. companies amid vigorous international demand that is putting pressure on producers.
“The buyers around the world are increasingly recognizing the quality of our pepper, especially Kampot pepper because it is a geographical indication product. But pepper production cannot keep up with demand,” Mr. Lay said.
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