Survey results of pepper in Dong Nai, Ba Ria – Vung Tau, Dak Nong, Dak Lak, and Gia Lai in 2022

Following the resolution by the Executive Board of Vietnam Pepper Association, a large-scale pepper survey was held in two phases. The first phase was from Feb 15-16, 2022 in Dong Nai and Ba Ria – Vung Tau. The second was from February 22-25, 2022 in Dak Nong, Dak Lak and Gia Lai. These are key provinces with pepper growing areas accounting for more than 90% of the total area of pepper in Vietnam.

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(Fresh Pepper Corn in 2022 season)

1. Purpose:

Generally assess the productivity, growing area, production of pepper, and other factors affecting pepper production in the key provinces of the Southeast and Central Highlands. Hence, to help enterprises have more information to support production and business plans as well as find opportunities for cooperation. Moreover, to build a network among exporters, farmers, and supply agents.

2. Survey Methods:

  • Meet, discuss, and interview farmers, farmer’s associations, cooperatives, supply agents, and pepper export companies.
  • Observe the actual pepper gardens and growing areas in the surveyed provinces.
  • Team’s assessment and observations.

    3. Survey Results:

    Based on the information received through interviews with some farmers, farmer’s associations, cooperatives, agents, exporting companies, and direct surveys in pepper gardens, some general results of the survey are presented as follows:

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    (Vietnamese black pepper is harvested from January until March every year)

    3.1. Phase 1: Dong Nai and Ba Ria – Vung Tau Feb 15-16, 2022

    3.1.1. Dong Nai

    Participants of the interview include four farmers, one agent, one farmer’s association, two cooperatives, and one import-export company.

    Pepper gardens were in the harvest season. Some had been harvested before Tet. The harvest phase was expected to end by mid-March. The shortage of laborers was common. Labor prices were high in the whole area, fluctuating at an average of 250,000 VND/person/day.

    Xuan Loc: 
    The production of crop 2022 is estimated to be down due to the decrease in the growing area. However, the remaining pepper gardens of the survey are currently well cared for. The productivity of crop 2022 is better than 2021 thanks to favorable weather and the application of sustainable farming measures such as using mainly manure and soybeans, creating humus for soil, limiting fertilizers and chemical drugs. This method has resulted in a significant reduction in the cost of care. According to the agent, the stored amount of pepper among households remains because the agent can only buy old pepper and the amount purchased is much less than the same period last year. In the growing area of Xuan Tho cooperative, the soil is poor in minerals and medium in quality, so it is difficult for the development of pepper.

    Cam My: In addition to similar factors to Xuan Loc such as reduced production due to reduced growing area, labor shortage, and high labor costs, Cam My district was affected by unfavorable weather in 2021. This made pepper flowers shed and bloom not simultaneously. Hence, the production in 2022 is expected to decrease not only due to reduced growing area but also reduced productivity. Besides, another disadvantage is that most pepper gardens in the region are in the final cycle of exploitation, over 15 years old.

    (Vietnamese Black Pepper, White Pepper, Red Pepper, Green Pepper)

    3.1.2 Ba Ria – Vung Tau

    The team interviewed and surveyed five pepper-growing households in Xuyen Moc and Chau Duc districts.

    The harvest did not happen at the same time. While Chau Duc was in the harvest phase, some households in Xuyen Moc said the new season would start from February 21. The production of crop 2022 was forecast to continue to decrease since most of the area was old pepper gardens, some were more than 20 years. Besides, irregular rains in 2021 caused pepper not to bloom. A small number of gardens recorded an increased production in 2022 due to the previous season’s loss. Three out of the five households surveyed said last year’s inventory remained. Picking pepper by weight is common. Meanwhile, the average wage is 250,000 VND/man/day in the case of picking pepper by man-day. In general, pepper gardens are still in the exploitation cycle, cultivated sustainably.

    3.2. Phase 2: Dak Nong – Dak Lak – Gia Lai Feb 22-25, 2022

    3.2.1. Dak Nong

    The team interviewed and conducted field surveys of seven farmers, one purchasing agent, one farmer’s association, and four cooperatives in Dak R’Lap, Dak Song, and Dak Mil districts.

    Dak R’Lap: Most of the households in the surveyed area had picked more than 50% while some others had finished harvesting. Pepper of the new crop was sold for investment in the following year. Although close to each other, Dak Wer and Nhan Co districts have a clear difference. Dak Wer had a bumper crop in 2022 thanks to favorable weather as well as the loss of the crop in 2021. Farmers are likely to increase their investments in 2022. The inventory currently remains but not much. Although the cultivation method improves by using more organic fertilizers, it is still limited. Farmers mainly grow pepper based on their experience, do not follow any standards. Some use cattle manure that has not been composted yet, causing fungi and bacteria to grow and affect the soil and roots of plants.

    Meanwhile, Nhan Co is likely not to have a good season like Dak Wer due to early rains after the harvest in 2021, affecting the blooming, after that will make flowers shed. There is almost no inventory. The largest agent in the region has purchased new pepper. Households in the survey grow pepper in an organic direction. Dong Thuan Organic Pepper Cooperative has a size of about 16 members, connecting farmers actively.

    Dak Song: The harvest is forecast to finish in Lunar March. Compared to other areas of Dak Song, Nam N’Jang is different. The production in 2022 of Nam N’Jang is expected to increase due to favorable weather in 2021 and the bumper year-lost year cycle. However, the farming method here is limited and unsustainable, such as using mainly chemical fertilizers and direct cattle manure. On the opposite, households in Thuan Ha, Nam Binh, and Dak Hoa districts reported that the production of the crop in 2022 decreased by about 25-30% due to early rains in 2021. Pepper is cultivated in an organic direction, pepper plants are healthy but sparse fruits. The situation in Dak Mil is similar.

    The wage of one man-day in Dak Nong ranges from 200,000-250,000 VND/day, or over 3,000 VND/kg if picking by weight. Due to the labor shortage, gardeners use canvas to cover and only pick once. Therefore, the density of pepper is rated lower than the previous year by the agent, due to the high amount of green pepper.

    (New pepper trees are being grown after years in price depression)

    3.2.2. Dak Lak:

    The team interviewed and conducted field surveyed of three farmers, two purchasing agents, one farmer’s association, and two cooperatives in Cu Kuin and Cu M’Gar districts.

    Cu Kuin: The harvest season is expected to be hectic until the end of Lunar January and finish by Lunar February. Households in the survey generally assessed that the production of crop 2022 would be reduced, some areas would reduce by more than 40%. The main reason was early rains in 2021. Some households have a good season but the percentage is not high. According to the observation of pepper gardens, the plants were well developed, the leaves were green but sparse, and short-chain fruits. Most pepper gardens are at the end of the exploitation cycle, over 10 years old. The inventory of the previous years remains, even some households have 20 tons (six tons from their harvest and 14 tons were bought to store). The remaining gardens are gradually changing to sustainable farming methods.

    3.2.3. Gia Lai

    Participants in the interview include three farmers, one purchasing agent, and two cooperatives.

    Chu Se: Although the area of pepper for business is less than the peak period, the remaining pepper gardens are currently well cared and the yield of crop 2022 is expected to increase. The expensive lesson from fertilizer and drug abuse in the past have helped farmers become more conscious and decide to choose a sustainable farming method. As a result, the percentage of pepper died due to diseases has been reduced. The inventory remains and focuses on households with good financial potential.

    Dak Doa: The harvest season is around early March. The production of crop 2022 is expected to decrease compared to the previous year. This is because most gardens are in the final stage of the exploitation cycle and early rains at the time of blooming, causing the chain of pepper to be short and sparse. The new growing area is insignificant compared to the area of dead pepper due to old age. The organic farming model has become popular and is expanding. Most of the households surveyed have a connection with exporting companies or cooperatives to receive training. Intercropping is recommended to limit risks for farmers.

    Mang Yang: A representative of a cooperative said that the harvest season will start from early March. The yield is estimated to decrease by about 20-25% due to the bumper crop 2021 and the impact of unfavorable weather last year. The production of the cooperative increased by 25% due to the increase in the number of members from five to eight members with the area increasing from 19 ha to 27 ha. The inventory last year is little. The cooperative is also associated with a company exporting and cultivating clean pepper. Dead pepper is mainly due to old age, fewer pests.

    (No labor for harvesting and high labor cost are the main problem in 2022 season)

    4. General Assessment

    Through the survey, some general assessments are as follows:

    4.1. Phase 1: Dong Nai and Ba Ria – Vung Tau

    The reduction in the production of 30-40% in 2022 according to farmers’ assessment is too high when the harvest season is not yet over. There is no basis for this assessment and does not exclude the possibility of farmers giving this figure with the expectation of better prices. Besides, the number of survey sites is limited. It may be more reasonable if the figure decreases from 20-25% in Dong Nai and BR-VT.

    However, there is an idea that the reduction can be up to 30% when the actual pepper growing area is not much, especially in Xuan Loc and Chau Duc. The surveyed gardens are the remaining well-cared ones, not to mention the majority of pepper gardens in these two provinces are at the end of the exploitation cycle. Besides, early rains in 2021 caused pepper flowers to shed and create fewer fruits. Most dead pepper gardens have changed plants, with very low recultivation ability. Some pepper gardens are slowly dying because of the fungus Fusarium.

    These assessments will be compiled after surveying in the Central Highlands from February 22-25, 2022.

    4.2. Phase 2: Dak Nong – Dak Lak – Gia Lai

    The change in the growing area is not too much, only down by about 10%. The conversion of plants or intercropping was carried out since pepper has died from previous years. Therefore, the comparison will not guarantee accuracy if only the area of dead pepper is counted for the last year. Many key areas have not been surveyed due to traffic and transportation limitations.

    The weather is not too extreme but causing a drop in the production of crop 2022. With the characteristic “bumper year- lost year” of pepper, factors from crop 2021 should be considered for the decline in this year’s production.

    Dak Nong is the region with the highest production. There is an increase in production in 2022 in many areas. In some areas, the production is equivalent to the previous year but in some other regions, the production is down compared to last year. On average, the whole province was expected to increase by about 10%. Meanwhile, both Dak Lak and Gia Lai recorded a reduction in 2022 due to unfavorable weather from 2021 as well as pepper is entering a period of reduced productivity since they have been cultivated for many years.

    4.3. Summary

    The pepper crop 2022 is coming to the hectic phase. It is expected that the season will finish by the end of March/early April.

    The daily labor costs fluctuate at an average of 220,000-250,000 VND/man/day, and 3,000-4,000 VND/kg of fresh pepper.

    The choice of calculating by man-day or by weight also becomes a headache for many farmers. In the case of calculating by man-day, the productivity will not be qualified. Meanwhile, calculating by weight will possibly affect the next crop’s production since laborers pick both branches and leaves. Despite the high labor prices (higher than last year), there is still a shortage of labor. This makes farmers worried when pepper is ripe but has not been picked.

    Although the price of pepper has improved, the price of raw materials is rising sharply. With current prices, farmers only have a profit when using family labor.

    Regarding organic pepper, farmers and cooperatives believe that the price is low, not commensurate with the cost and quality. Therefore, farmers will not have enough motivation to maintain in the long term. Meanwhile, the output for organic pepper is still limited. So, farmers are looking forward to receiving more attention from enterprises by purchasing at better prices, or deep processing to share profits for farmers to re-invest and develop sustainably.

    The price increase cycle from 2020 is encouraging farmers to maintain and take good care of current pepper gardens. They have also become aware of the trend of changing towards clean and sustainable cultivation. This is a good signal for the quality of Vietnamese pepper in the future. Besides, there is still a situation that some small households do not connect with cooperatives yet. Enterprises and purchasing companies will continue to invest in fertilizers and chemical drugs to boost productivity when the price is over 100,000 VND/kg.

    In the coming period, the possibility of a new planting area is not high. The reason is due to the fear after the price crisis, the impact of pests and weather, and no land available for cultivation. Dead pepper gardens have now been intercropped or converted to fruit trees such as durian, avocado, or jackfruit. It should also be noted that the area of old pepper gardens is increasing with the fever of real estate and wind power projects. Therefore, the reduction of growing areas in some regions is practical.

    Some agents are able to buy old pepper from the beginning of this year. The survey shows that the inventories from previous years are still much, focused on households and agents with strong economic potential. They can increase stocks in the context that pepper price is now increasing and pepper is restricted to the market.

    Most of the surveyed households said that they will store new pepper, and only sell them when they have expenditure needs or high price expectations. This may cause the risk of a virtual price increase as in the previous year. It can be said that the amount of pepper in households from previous seasons is quite much, not to mention the stock at agents and companies with financial potential that have been purchased from previous seasons.

    According to the weather, especially the rains right after harvest season, farmers think that next year’s crop may be lost. The reason is that early rains cause pepper flowers not to bloom for the next season. However, this needs to be verified in the coming time.

    Although the survey is not comprehensive, and the survey time is still limited, it can be determined that Dak Nong’s production increases about 10% thanks to favorable factors, other areas decrease. In general, the whole country can record a decrease of more than 10%. However, the harvest season is not over yet, so further considerations should be made after the crop 2022 officially ends in April. In addition to the assessment about crop 2022, the survey also shows that crop 2021 is better than the previous forecast. Hence, the overall assessment of crop 2021 may have to be adjusted.

    (No labors, Farmers leave the pepper fruits natural fallen to the plastic bag on the ground)

    4.4. Suggestions/ Recommendations

    The Association continues the task of providing information about prices in the market, updating quality control regulations in the import market, strengthening the connection, promotion, and introduction of Vietnamese pepper in the world market, including organic and high-quality pepper. It is necessary to continue the propaganda, marketing, and film production to introduce Vietnamese pepper to the import market. This is to increase the value of organic pepper. The price of pepper should be appropriate for effort and costs in the context of rising labor and input costs.

    To work closely with farmers to gradually improve the quality of Vietnamese pepper, propaganda, dissemination, and orientation of sustainable farming needs to be implemented often in raw material areas.

    Currently, some farmers still follow the trend of quantity-driven farming, boosting productivity by using more fertilizers and chemical drugs when pepper price is up. On behalf of enterprises, Vietnam Pepper Association is looking forward to the coordination of the Ministry of Agriculture, the National Agricultural Promotion Center, the Department of Agriculture, local cooperatives, organizations, partners, and exporting companies. These parties may work closely with farmers during the process of cultivation, from planting to harvesting stage. Besides, more training programs should be organized for farmers. It is expected that a training program will be held in the second quarter (around May 2022) when the new pepper crop starts.

    Some cooperatives are working well but there is no link with enterprises and exporters to find the output for the product. Soon, cooperatives should be invited to join the Association for information exchange and connection with exporters.

    To have a practical basis and close information to the assessment of crops in the coming years, the local authorities and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development can be invited to participate in the survey.
    (Source: VPA)