In the first half of 2023, Cambodian pepper exports, encompassing all varieties, hit about 4,300 tonnes. This reflects a drop of over 31 per cent compared to the same period last year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Ministry spokeswoman Im Rachna attributes the decline to the global economic downturn which has led to a drop in orders for all goods, pepper included.

Market uncertainty, climate change impacting crop yields and quality, and unauthorised exports through Vietnamese and Thai corridors are other contributing factors, she added.

Mak Ny, president of the Cambodian Pepper and Spices Federation (CPSF), noted on July 18 that the decline is linked to the falling market price of pepper despite a normal level of pepper production. This has resulted in some farmers suspending sales and drying the pepper, awaiting a rise in price before selling.

“The challenge isn’t new. The price of pepper dropped post-harvest. As a result, some farmers dried it, anticipating a price increase,” he said.

He added that weather-related challenges have led some farmers to abandon their crops, which could trigger a decline in pepper production this year and the next.

New markets are crucial for Cambodian pepper as it would lure more investors to grow and export pepper to countries beyond Vietnam, he emphasised.

“In ASEAN, Vietnam is a major buyer of Cambodian pepper. However, despite various regional and bilateral free trade agreements, tariff barriers and phytosanitary issues persist,” added Mak Ny.

Nguon Lay, president of the Kampot Pepper Promotion Association, observed that although there’s no official data on pepper exports, he assesses that Kampot pepper exports haven’t fluctuated in the first half, mirroring last year’s trends.

Despite the global crisis, demand for Kampot pepper remains steady, particularly from European buyers.

“Kampot pepper has not encountered significant issues. We have contracts with purchasing companies and export approximately 70 to 80 tonnes annually. The weather did not diminish the quality of the pepper as our farmers are prepared, particularly in managing water supplies in response to climate change,” he said.

However, the high maintenance costs associated with growing Kampot pepper have forced some farmers out of business, reducing the association’s membership from 460 to just over 350 households.

Cambodia exports pepper to a wide range of countries, and pepper is grown in 18 provinces across the nation, including Mondulkiri, Ratanakkiri, Tbong Khmum and Kampot.