|A woman harvests pepper at a household farm in Dak Lak Province. — VNA/VNS Photo Tran Viet
DAK LAK (VNS) — Farmers in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak have chopped down some of the area's most essential crops, coffee and rubber, to make room for the possibly more lucrative black pepper plant.
After a rapid increase in Viet Nam's pepper cultivation, the area has reached 80,000 hectares.
According to the Viet Nam Pepper Association, the price of domestic pepper has increased continuously since 2007. It cost VND150,000 (US$6.9) per kg in early January, and jumped to VND175,000 ($8.1) by the end of the first quarter of this year. The price of exporting black pepper was nearly $8,800 per tonne, an increase of 35 per cent compared with the same period last year.
The price hike has encouraged farmers to swap their farms for pepper or increase their yield, regardless of if their land can support it or not.
Hoang Phuoc Binh, vice chairman of the Chu Se Pepper Association, said the pepper supply would increase by hundreds of thousands of tonnes if the cultivation area kept increasing at a similar pace. He said the planting was being rushed.
Nguyen Van Cuong, a farmer in Cu M'Gar District's Ea Kpam Commune said he hired five people to chop down rubber trees – rubber was quite cheap and if pepper prices remained stable, it would be worth the investment. The land would be used for pepper plantations, and about 500 rubber trees would be used as pillars to help the pepper grow.
Dao Xuan Vinh, a farmer in Buon Ho Town's Thong Nhat Ward, said he switched two hectares of rubber over to pepper with the hope of making billions of dong in the next few years.
Ho Van Khac and Pham Ngoc Binh, two farmers in Phu Xuan Commune, even filled up a playground and pond to make more land to grow pepper.
Trinh Tien Bo, head of the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's cultivation unit, said pepper was planted over 16,000ha, exceeding the goal for 2020 by 1,000ha. The unit estimated that 2,000 more hectares would be planted by the end of the year.
Bo said the biggest concerns were the crops' quality and productivity. The pepper was a sensitive tree that would die en masse without proper cultivation.
The Viet Nam Pepper Association asked the ministry to require local agricultural authorities to help farmers plant the crops correctly and avoid fertiliser abuse to assure productivity. — VNS