More than 380 pepper producers, exporters, policymakers, consumers, and scientists from more than 25 countries are attending a four-day meeting that opened in Ho Chi Minh City on October 27.
Apart from analysing the latest happenings in the pepper market, they are also discussing technological progress and measures to sustain prices of the spice.
W.D.L Gunaratne, Executive Director of the International Pepper Community (IPC), said during the last decade global production has not seen big change but prices have shot up, improving the livelihoods of small farmers.
In the last six years, Vietnam has become the world’s top producer and exporter, with shipments of over 120,000 metric tonnes a year, he said.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Le Quoc Doanh said pepper is an important spice consumed in most countries around the world.
As the biggest pepper producer and exporter for the last 14 years, Vietnam not only plays an important role in world trade but also prices, he said.
But despite its achievements, the country’s pepper industry faces a number of challenges, such as the large area requiring to be replanted, many stunted and overexploited pepper farms with diseases and decreased productivity, and climate change impacts.
Do Ha Nam, Chairman of the Vietnam Pepper Association, said high prices have persuaded farmers to expand cultivation without any planning. They end up planting the crop on unsuitable land and overusing fertilisers, causing the plants to degenerate quickly and fall victim to diseases, he said.
Pepper prices might remain high in the short term, but if production is not monitored carefully, there could be a glut, he warned.
Gunaratne said sustaining the prices and enhancing development are the current concerns of the pepper sector.
To sustain the growth, it is essential to look for new markets and technology and ways to reduce costs and improve quality, he said.
Tran Kim Long, Director General of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Internal Cooperation department, said the supply of pepper needs to be balanced by promoting domestic consumption in IPC member countries, development of new products, and fostering trade with emerging markets through participation in exhibitions and conferences.
Affluent markets are willing to pay high prices for foods conforming to stricter standards, he said. They need brand-name products, certificate of origin, and certification for sustainable production and trading and environmental effect, he said, adding that firms must pay more attention to these factors.
Most pepper farmers in Vietnam are small or medium-sized and so production costs are high. In addition, it is difficult for companies to procure large volumes of similar quality for processing and exports.
Improving value and quality is the target for Vietnam’s pepper industry, Nam said.
He urged processors to focus more on safety and hygiene and invest more in full-fledged processing, diversifying products, using modern technologies, and adapting to market requirement.
Despite the financial and economic crisis, global pepper exports have been steadily increasing, going up from 1.58 billion USD (equivalent to 250,780 tonnes) in 2011 to 1.9 billion USD (equivalent to 249,500 tonnes) last year, and are forecast to rise to 2.4 billion USD (equivalent to 247,500 tonnes) this year.
Prices have increased significantly to stand at around 9,000 USD a tonne now.
Vietnam’s exports topped a record 1 billion USD in the first 10 months of the year, as around 140,000 tonnes were shipped, he said.
The country hopes to export 150,000 tonnes for 1.2 billion USD this year compared to 132,955 tonnes and 900 million USD last year.
Its products are sold to over 100 countries and territories.
The IPC comprises six members, namely Brazil, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, who together account for 85 per cent of the world’s total production and exports.
The roles of the individual IPC members as well as the IPC secretariat are very important to the overall coordination of production, stockpiling, and trade to sustain prices and avoid price uncertainties during the up and down cycles as has been happening in recent years, Doanh said.
During the second day of the meeting, delegates deliberate on current happenings in the industry and developments and programmes undertaken in producing countries.
They will discuss pepper trade and exchange information on the global market followed by a field trip to Ba Ria-Vung Tau province on October 30.
The event is being organised by the ministry together with the International Pepper Community and the Vietnam Pepper Association.-VNA