KUCHING: Sarawakian pepper growers must do more to meet the enormous demand for pepper in the global market by expanding plantations, boosting production and enhancing farm income.
The average global demand for pepper from 2014 to 2016 was 438,933 metric tonnes (mt) but supply only reached 390,912 mt, indicating a shortage of 48,021 mt or RM947 million.
Malaysian Pepper Board (MPB) director general Dr Harry Entebang pointed out that Sarawak did not have a consistent supply of pepper because farmers were not producing enough.
Sarawak, he told The Borneo Post, only produced slightly below 30,000 mt of pepper per year and the volume in fact accounted for 80 per cent of production for the country.
The major producing regions in Sarawak for 2016 were Sarikei with 9,000 mt, Betong (5,000 mt), Serian (4,000 mt), Samarahan (3,100 mt) and Sri Aman (2,500 mt).
“It is a sector with potential for further growth. The global demand for pepper is exceeding supply now, so we need to make the best out of this opportunity,” he said.
More importantly, Harry emphasised that it could help growers build a more resilient future considering that the commodity can generate high revenue per hectare and did not require sweeping plots of land and gigantic equipment.
“Why pepper? For new planting, 2,000 vines can be grown on a one hectare land. It is estimated that one vine can produce 3kg of pepper and with a full harvest of 6,000kg at RM19 per kg, farmers can earn a gross income of RM114,000 per year,” he explained.
Of the major producing countries, Harry revealed that Vietnam and Indonesia remained the top two followed by India, Brazil and then Malaysia.
“Studies suggest that no single country can fulfil the demand for pepper. But we can’t compete with countries like Vietnam and Indonesia because they produce a huge volume,” he said.
Sarawak exported 12,199 mt of pepper valued at RM490 million in 2016 as compared to Vietnam’s 147,000 mt from 2014 to 2016.
To gain a competitive edge in the global market however, Harry emphasised the need for growers to produce high quality pepper which can fetch a good price as well as have the advantage in pricing power.
“Our strengths are in the quality of pepper we produce which is highly in demand.
This way, we can also stabilise the price so other producing countries will not affect us with their volume,” he added.
Currently, the price of high quality pepper is RM19 per kg or RM19,000 per mt, while white pepper is RM29 per kg and black pepper is RM30 per kg.
To help growers produce high quality pepper for domestic and export markets, Harry said MPB will continue to strengthen its extension services and impart knowledge, ideas and technology to farmers.
“One of the best ways is to continue to educate farmers in terms of good agricultural practices from growing, harvesting to processing so to not only produce high quality pepper but improve yields,” he elaborated.
For the sector to further flourish, Harry highlighted the need for the younger generation and the private sector to participate and become driving forces.
“Now only the senior citizens are well versed in this industry because the young people do not perceive pepper planting as a business but as hard labour in farming,” he said.
“So we want to attract the younger generation to come and learn. It is not only farming but this is an attractive business with very good returns,” he added.
Furthermore, he pointed out that the sector was not performing to its full potential as it was highly driven by smallholders, unlike palm oil and rubber.
“We want to encourage private organisations, especially those with huge land banks, to venture into pepper planting. We do have plans to go around to discuss this proposal with private investors,” he said, of one of the factors contributing to Vietnam’s success.
MPB, Harry elaborated, was also looking at strengthening downstream activities by identifying potential uses for pepper in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.
“Research suggests a great need for pepper in the pharmaceutical industry so we will be collaborating with established companies in other countries to explore the possibilities,” he said.
“In addition, the new Research and Development Complex sitting on an 18-acre site at Semenggoh will provide support to the sector,” he added.
Construction of the complex is expected to start in July this year and to be completed by mid-2020.