Als Teil meiner Recherche für das TRY Pfeffer Probierset habe ich u.a. mit S. Kannan, dem Executive Director der International Pepper Community (IPC) in Jakarta, per Skype gesprochen.
Für mich stellte dieses Interview einen faszinierenden Einblick in die Welt des Pfeffers dar. Besonders interessant fand ich, wie die International Pepper Community als internationale Organisation versucht, durch Informationen sowohl die Situation der Pfefferbauern zu verbessern als auch die Vorteile des Gewürzes Pfeffers weltweit zu promoten.
S. Kannan ist ein ausgewiesener Pfeffer-Experte, der sich mit den Anbaukonditionen in den wichtigen pfefferproduzierenden Ländern bestens auskennt. Ich gebe hier das Interview mit ihm im Original auf Englisch wieder.
What are the main responsibilities and goals of the IPC?
The main function of the IPC is to promote all activities around the pepper industry. We disseminate market and research information. We develop quality and testing standards for the unity of the industry. We also collect and publish data, so people in the industry have access to unbiased information.
How did you get involved with IPC?
The executive director position is based on a rotation among the member countries. Each term is 3-4 years. I am in my third year. I usually work as the director of marketing for the Spices Board of India, which is under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. We promote spices from India. And since pepper is one of the commodities I am handling, and the turn came to India to put someone in the post for the executive director of the IPC, the government of India asked me to take on this position. In April 2014 I will move back to the Spices Board of India.
What fascinates you about pepper?
Pepper is mostly planted by small families and it is fascinating to see how the pepper prices influence the lives of these families. So, if the pepper prices are good, the social and the health status of the families, the health situation in the villages and the education standards of the children are improving. Because almost all the pepper farmers live in remote rural areas, our goal is to get closer to these pepper farmers and educate them how to grow pepper and address issues and mistakes they unknowingly made about the processing, cleaning and drying of the pepper. For a higher quality product, they get a higher price.
Earlier the information gap was very big, because the farmers did not get the market price information. Some traders exploited this and paid lower prices to the farmers than they were supposed to. We intervened and sent the price information to the pepper farmers by SMS on their mobile phones. So, every week they are informed about the international prices for peppers of different qualities. They can make more informed decisions whether to sell or not to sell. We were very successful. The exploitation of the farmers has completely stopped. More than 90% of the price now goes to the farmers. Before it was only 75%. It was a good impact we had. And this is fascinating.
The last forty years there used to be a 10-year cycle of boom and bust. The boom and bust situation created panic in the minds of everyone involved in the industry. No one wants to have this fluctuation. One dollar prices one day and the next day ten dollars. By giving realistic information on the production, the demand and the market conditions we could sustain the market price level at around 6 US$ for five years now. We can now see the results of this with new houses in the areas of pepper growing farms. Children are well dressed and they are going to school.
And pepper is also fascinating because it is a unique flavoring and preservative commodity.
What are the pre-requisites to successfully grow a pepper plant?
Basically, elevation is required. The plants should be planted on a slope. The soils should be sand. It needs to have intermediate rain falls. It should neither be totally wet nor totally dry. At least 3-4 months of sun after the harvest should be there to get the stress off the plant. Otherwise, the pepper is a shade loving creeping plant, which needs a support tree.
What are the differences in growing the plants on organic vs. big farms:
The forest approach is the traditional approach but now the Vietnamese farmers have a lot big farms. The main difference between the big farm approach in Vietnam and the forest approach is that Vietnamese farmers use silk cotton as a support tree. It means that the silk cotton tree can support the pepper plant in any direction it grows. In other areas the support trees can't, because too much weight can break the support tree there. In Vietnam they can plant 3 or 4 pepper plants per support tree whereas in other areas such as India or Indonesia they have one or a maximum of two plants.
They also can grow up to nine or ten meters height in Vietnam whereas in India or Indonesia it is only 3-4 meters. That is why the per hectare productivity in Vietnam is much higher. It is a mind boggling figure. Last week when we had a discussion, one of the exporters from Vietnam said that in one province some farmers are getting 18 tons of dried black pepper from one hectare. In comparison in India or Indonesia the output of one hectare is around 600-700 kg. The national average of Vietnam is 3-4 tons.
Is there an effect on quality of pepper when you have such a high productivity?
Yes, there is. Actually, Indian and Indonesian peppers are the best in aromas and pungency. For Vietnamese pepper the bulk density is lower, because they put a lot of nutrients, organic manure, and chemical manure to get the highest yield. They also have irrigation. They mix the nutrients into the water and about every 15 days they irrigate the plants, so it grows well and strong. But the quality of the berry is less. It has less pungency and less essential oil content.
How is pepper harvested?
It is a creeper that grows with the support tree, farmers use a ladder to climb up the support tree. They pick the spikes and put it in bags, which they have on their shoulders. Then they take the bag and thrash it out. Afterwards they separate the berries and put them out to dry. Once the pepper reaches a moisture level of less than 10%, they sell them to the broker, who comes to the farmer's house to collect the peppers.