Cameroon: International recognition spices up farmers’ lives

| June 15, 2015

Download this story

Perched on a ladder, Christian Tim picks peppercorns and immediately places them in the bag slung over his shoulder. The 19-year-old is from Penja, a city 50 kilometres north of Douala in the Littoral Region of Cameroon. He explains: “I have worked on this pepper farm for a year. Depending on the season, I cultivate the fields and gather or even clean the peppercorns. I make my living from this work.”

Mr. Tim is a student who ran out of money for school fees and decided to look for a job. He found work in the booming local pepper industry. In September 2013, the local variety of peppercorns obtained the Protected Designation of Origin, or PDO, classification.

The purpose of the internationally-recognized PDO is to protect the reputation of regional foods and promote local agriculture. It helps producers get a premium price for authentic products, eliminates unfair competition, and guards against sellers misleading consumers with non-genuine products.

The PDO ensures that only peppercorns which genuinely originate in Penja can be identified and marketed as Penja peppers. And it seems to have worked for Cameroonian pepper farmers! International demand for Penja peppers rose after the peppers received the PDO designation.

Mr. Tim says: “My father has worked on this farm for six years. He said that the farmer had to expand his acreage to keep up with the increased demand for the pepper. Clearly, he had to take on extra workers. As I was looking for work, I jumped at the chance.”

René Claude Metomo is the president of the Association of Penja Pepper Producers. He says that farmers are really excited by the strong demand for Penja peppercorns. He adds, “The number of producers is growing. Production of pepper has increased between 20 and 30 per cent this year. Last year we produced about 300 tonnes; this year it’s closer to 400 tonnes.”

Pepper trees take four years to mature before the first harvest. Mr. Metomo says the boom in production was sudden because many farmers started planting trees five years ago, as soon as the process of applying for the PDO began.

At present, only three sub-Sahara African food products—Penja pepper and Oku honey from Cameroon and Guinean Ziama-Macenta coffee—have obtained the PDO status.

The PDO classification also increased the price of Penja peppers. Mr. Metomo explains: “Before the [PDO was granted], the price of pepper was fluctuating. A kilogram could sell for as much as 3,000 Central African francs [$5.16 U.S.], but actually, much of it sold for less because the industry was disorganized. The [PDO] was granted in September, 2013. In 2014, we sold pepper for 5,000 francs [$8.61 U.S.] per kilogram. This year, the price has reached 9,000 CFA francs a kilogram [$15.49 U.S.].”

Farm workers are reaping the benefits of this jump in price. Mr. Tim is managing to put some money aside each month—and he’s planning to go back to school.

Photo credit: Anne Mireille Nzouankeu