As pepper prices fall, experts urge farmers to go organic, join co-operatives

Monday, Mar 15, 2021 08:30

A farmer takes care of pepper plants. Experts want pepper farmers to work with co-operative groups and switch to organic farming to escape the worst effects of plummeting prices.. — Photo

Pepper farmers in south-eastern provinces are being encouraged to switch to organic farming and join co-operative groups as more and more are struggling to earn a livelihood from the spice.

Pham Van Hai of Chau Duc District in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province said until five years ago his family’s two-odd hectares of pepper farm fetched hundreds of millions of dong every season.

But due to falling prices in recent years he has had to cut his farm to a third of its original size.

This year workers are especially hard to find since many have left for cities to work after Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday. This leads to higher costs for farmers as wages rise.

Quang Thanh Commune used to have the largest area under pepper in Chau Duc District at 890ha, but is now down to around 500ha as farmers have been switching to more profitable crops.

Ba Ria-Vung Tau has around 11,000ha under pepper, but the output has fallen by more than half this year.

Cam My District in Dong Nai Province, an important pepper growing area with nearly 7,000ha under the spice, is also seeing many farmers switch to other crops.

Truong Dinh Ba, chairman of the province’s Lam San Commune Farmers Association, said pepper farmers are hesitant due to falling prices and those still growing are losing VND30,000 (US$1.29) per kilogramme.

Recently prices have been recovering, but according to Nguyen Nam Hai, chairman of the Viet Nam Pepper Association, demand remains modest and global prices have only increased slightly. The spike in domestic prices could be due to businesses speculating in the spice since output is down this year, he said.

Despite the difficulties, many farmers want to keep growing pepper, and have been changing their farming methods, focusing on organic rather than solely output, he said.

They are also working with the Lam San Co-operative to export their output, and so farmers in Lam San commune are not impacted heavily by the pandemic. Their entire output is bought by the co-operative at higher than market prices.

Ba said the province should expand this model.

Vo Van Phi, deputy chairman of the Dong Nai Province People’s Committee, said the province has around 12,000ha under pepper, one of its key crops.

It would help the farmers by building supply chains for exports that meet VietGap standards and helping them overcome challenges and work towards sustainable farming, he added.

Lam Ngoc Nham, director of the Bau May Agriculutre - Commerce - Tourism JSC, said processing increases the value of pepper by more than 250 times.

Exports of the spice in the first two months of the year fell to 32,000 tonnes worth $93 million, a decrease of 0.9 per cent year-on-year. — VNS

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