Dining tables across the world, be it at homes or restaurants, are incomplete without salt-and-pepper bottles. In the last few years, the demand for pepper has seen a substantial increase across the globe, especially in Europe and North America. International Pepper Community chairman Dr A. Jayathilak, who also heads the Spices Board of India, says pepper is the largest traded spice in the world, accounting for about 35 per cent of the total spice export earnings [US$ 2.30 billion in 2014]. Excerpts from an interview:
What is the scene with regard to pepper cultivation across the globe?
Pepper is truly the king of spices and the most lucrative and the largest traded spice in the world. Though pepper production was high in India, other countries such as Vietnam, a late starter in pepper cultivation, have caught up and emerged as the largest producers of pepper in the world. This, they have mainly achieved by practising monocropping. Countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India practise mixed cropping, which involves growing pepper along with other crops such as coffee and tea.
How has been the growth of pepper cultivation in India?
Though pepper production in India had been stagnating in the past one decade, the situation has now changed substantially with the launch of National Horticulture Mission during 2009-2012. In India, our aim has been to motivate growers to grow pepper in fresh areas. Recently, Karnataka has taken a lead in pepper production and has overtaken Kerala. The rising prices of pepper and fluctuating coffee prices have motivated more farmers to take up pepper cultivation. Some pepper farmers in Karnataka have achieved more than ten metric tonnes productivity per hectare against the national average of around 300kg per hectare. Assam has also increased cultivation of pepper, which is grown along with tea. We have seen a rise in domestic demand for pepper in India, too.
What role is IPC playing to improve the growth of the pepper economy?
The International Pepper Community is an intergovernmental body of major pepper-producing countries, established under the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.... India, Indonesia and Malaysia are its founder members. The organisation has Brazil, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam as its full members and Papua New Guinea as an associate member. China, Cambodia, Madagascar and Micronesia are expected to join in the near future. Largely, IPC tries to spread best practices among pepper growing countries and also holds seminars to share innovations and advancements in pepper cultivation, production, processing, marketing, quality improvement, research and development as well as trade promotion. Recently, IPC held its 43rd annual session in Mysore to discuss and promote limited and safe use of chemicals for controlling pest and diseases in pepper....
What are the challenges? Is climate change a major concern for pepper cultivation?
The major challenge for the pepper economy is to maintain the prices without a drop. In order to sustain the rate of pepper production, realising remunerative prices is an important factor, and the trading community should avoid speculative activity.... A large number of farmers are involved in pepper cultivation, and controlling the quality of the produce at various levels is not an easy task. It should be the prime responsibility of policy makers to ensure the quality of the produce and [offer] premium price to farmers as a key motivation.... As of now, climate change has not affected pepper cultivation, but in the future it may become a major challenge.