Penja pepper gets GI protection

DO-reportage_penja_white_pepper_crop.jpgPenja white pepper crop © A M Nzouankeu

Penja white pepper, produced in Cameroon, has led the way as one of Africa’s first GI protected crops – a lengthy process but one which is now bringing farmers deserved rewards.

At the ‘Plantations Metomo’, located in Penja, Cameroon, employees wearing scarves and head covers sort Penja white pepper by hand. Some are checking to ensure that there aren’t any foreign bodies in the pepper, while others sieve the pepper to separate large and small grains. “Current production of Penja white pepper is around 300 to 400 t a year,” explains René Claude Metomo, president of the association of Penja pepper producers which brings together over 300 actors in the sector, including nurserymen, producers and distributors. “However, production will certainly increase now that the white pepper produced in Penja has a geographic indication (GI) which allows it to be sold under the ‘Penja Pepper’ label,” adds Metomo. “Potential production with our land is about 2,000 t a year.”

“Penja white pepper was the first product to receive a GI in Africa,” explains agro-economist Angeline Ketchajuene. “This means that the pepper received a protection linked to a specific locality of Cameroon. Pepper is a spice found almost everywhere in the world. But Penja pepper is different from others because of its specific taste and exceptional aroma,” she adds. So why is Penja pepper so distinctive? Metomo explains: “In Penja, we have a rather particular ecosystem. We are on volcanic, basaltic grounds, thus the soil is very rich. Our climate is also very favourable to the culture of the pepper plant. All these ingredients come together to give Penja pepper qualities which are recognised internationally.”

DO-reportage_sorting_out_of_penja_white_pepper.jpgSorting of Penja white pepper © A M Nzouankeu

The process of obtaining GI took many years, beginning in 2008 and succeeding in September 2013. According to Ketchajuene, the most difficult part was organising all of the actors in the sector, getting them to come up with a specification document/code of practice, detailing the responsibilities of each party and steps to maintain the pepper quality. But producers testify that obtaining GI has improved their life, with the most visible aspect of this change the sale price of pepper. “Before the GI, prices fluctuated but were around 3,000 CFA (€4.50) per kg. Producers did not all sell at the same price but depended on their capacity to negotiate. Since the GI, the group of producers has managed to stabilise prices. For this season just ended, all the producers sold their pepper at 5,000 CFA (€7.60) per kg,” reveals Metomo.

Most farmers in the producers’ association grow conventional pepper, but there are some who produce organic pepper, like Jean-Pierre Imélé. “We use only inputs authorised in organic farming,” he explains, adding that he only uses organic fertiliser and pesticides made by one of their group members. Imélé has been producing organic pepper for 7 years on 3 ha and his production is checked annually by a certification body which provides him with documentation as proof of his organic status. This allows Imélé to sell his organic pepper to specialised shops in France for no less than 25,000 CFA (€38) per kg. “Obtaining GI has increased the pepper’s fame,” Imélé reveals. “Since the GI, orders have increased. We can’t deliver the quantities that are needed.”

According to Metomo, the biggest challenge after obtaining the GI will be to maintain the quality and the fame, especially as it is not easy to produce. “After planting a pepper plant, you have to wait 4 years to start harvesting the first seed. It is necessary to be patient. You have to maintain your plantation during those 4 years. Sometimes production fails and it is necessary to start again.” To maintain the high quality of Penja pepper, producers are benefitting from support from Cameroon’s Ministry of Agriculture, which is drilling two boreholes. “In pepper processing, the quality of water used to wash it is very important. It is necessary to wash them with drinking water,” explains Metomo.

DO-reportage_a_penja_white_pepper_nursery.jpgA Penja white pepper nursery © A M Nzouankeu

The Ministry is also constructing a packaging centre. “The packaging centre will be very important in terms of our specification document. Only products which have respected that document will be packaged with our logo, so we will be sure to continue to maintain the quality of Penja pepper,” adds Metomo. Penja pepper is sold in Cameroon but also in France, Germany and Switzerland.

Anne Mireille Nzouankeu

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