Nguyễn Nam Hải, chairman of the Việt Nam Pepper Association, tells Việt Nam News about how to improve the value of the spice and develop the pepper industry.
How do you assess the Vietnamese pepper industry and how can it be developed further?
The pepper cultivation area tripled in five years, from 53,000 hectares in 2013 to 152,000 now. Two or three years ago when pepper prices increased a lot, we [growers] expanded pepper cultivation even into areas that were not suitable for cultivating it.
Not only Việt Nam but also other pepper growing countries like Brazil and Cambodia also expanded cultivation, resulting in a sharp increase in supply in the global market in the last three years, pushing prices down sharply.
We will focus on developing the pepper industry in a sustainable manner. To do so, we must restructure it.
We will not expand the area under pepper but try to reduce it to around 110,000 ha and strive to keep at this level.
But the area has gone up to over 150,000ha now. How does the industry propose to achieve the goal of keeping it at around 110,000ha?
In order to achieve the objective, authorised agencies, especially localities, must persuade farmers to switch from pepper to other crops with higher economic efficiency in places that do not have suitable soil or weather conditions for pepper.
Farmers grow pepper in places without water or suitable climate. Unfavourable weather such as high rainfall in the early part of this year caused diseases and destroyed some pepper farms in these places.
Drought since October has also affected pepper farms, particularly in places that do not have suitable climate or soil for pepper.
How is the pepper export situation this year? What is your forecast for next year?
Pepper exports increased by 8.3 per cent in volume terms but fell by 31.2 per cent in revenue terms in the first 10 months of the year over the same period last year due to a sharp drop in pepper export prices.
Việt Nam will enter a new harvest season between February and March. Pepper output in the 2019 crop will be not as high as forecast due to climate change impacts.
In the global market, supply will remain higher than demand, and thus it will be hard for prices to increase in 2019.
Companies mainly export pepper in raw form with low value. How can they add value to the spice and improve its quality?
To improve the quality of pepper, firstly we need to make growing it sustainable.
Secondly, we need to develop a co-ordinated processing system.
Thirdly, growers must always avoid the abuse of pesticides and chemical fertilisers to retain our prestige in the eyes of foreign customers.
At a time when supply is higher than demand, we should apply modern processing technologies to make high-value products such as pepper oil.
So applying technology to highly process pepper will definitely solve the surplus pepper volume.
The majority of processing plants are standardised to achieve good manufacturing practice and other international standards.
The biggest challenge for the pepper industry is growing the crop.
Compared with many years ago more and more farmers are adopting good agricultural practice (GAP) to ensure food safety and hygiene in accordance with export requirements. But the industry needs to make more efforts to further improve the quality of pepper.
Việt Nam has signed many free trade agreements. What should the industry do to take advantage of the opportunities brought by these agreements?
Free trade agreements offer us the opportunity to raise the position of our pepper industry in the global market, but also entail challenges.
This requires us to restructure the industry to enable it to develop in a sustainable manner, with a focus on ensuring product quality, trace ability and efficiency.
In general, to take advantage of this opportunity, Vietnammese pepper enterprises must firstly focus on ensuring quality.
Secondly, they must develop sustainable farming.
Can you tell us something about organic pepper?
Farming of organic pepper is still modest compared to the country’s potential.
In our plan to sustainable develop the pepper industry, we will focus on expanding the area under organic pepper. — VNS