Struggling Sarawak pepper farmers need help due to falling prices

Edward-Andrew-Luwak-pepperPETALING JAYA: Sarawak DAP has urged the government to come to the aid of some 65,000 pepper growers in the state who are suffering following a drastic drop in the price of the commodity.

The party’s Serian branch chairman Edward Andrew Luwak said prices of both white and black pepper had reduced by more than 30% since late 2016, affecting mainly Sarawakian farmers.

He said the growers suffer a “double blow” when they have to turn to pepper dealers to sell their harvests.

“Pepper dealers, to protect their interest, have to quote a much lower price as pepper prices are very volatile,” he said, adding that these prices were far lower than that indicated by the Pepper Marketing Board.

“There must be some measures taken to avoid unfair manipulation by dealers,” he said in a statement today.

Luwak said the board, an agency under the plantations industry and commodities ministry, had not been of much help.

He said farmers and dealers had complained that a lot of pepper brought to the board had been rejected, resulting in the items being disposed at “lelong” (bargain) prices.

“The interests of pepper dealers, especially the rural dealers, need to be taken into account too,” he said.

“They have been given licences to purchase pepper from the growers in villages for the convenience of growers. They face big losses when the board rejects their pepper,” he added.

He especially urged the state government to take measures to relieve the farmers and dealers of their burden.

Luwak said Sarawak, which has an estimated pepper planting area of 13,000 ha, produces 95% of Malaysian pepper.

“With an average farm size of 0.2 hectare per pepper farmer the number of planters is roughly in the region of 65,000,” he added.

He said white pepper price dropped from about RM47,000 per tonne in July 2016 to around RM30,000 in December 2016.

During the same period black pepper dropped from RM27,000 per tonne to RM18,000. “The prices are still sliding down,” he said.

Luwak added that while the board’s official portal indicated a price of around RM30,000 per tonne for white pepper, a dealer in Serian town displayed a price of RM18.80 to RM20 per kg of white pepper which was much lower than the board’s specification.

“The board’s published price for black pepper is about RM20,000 per tonne but dealers are displaying prices of RM7.00 to RM10.30 per kg,” he said.

“As compared to the Pepper Marketing Board price, the price is lower by more than 30% for white pepper and close to 50% for black pepper,” he said.