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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 109

SL trains Pepper farmers in Nalada to improve quality of pepper

Sunil C. Perera - Reporting from Colombo

Colombo, 21 March, ( Representatives of the International Pepper Community , Sri Lankan Agricultural experts including the Department of Agriculture have trained Pepper farmers to improve quality of the pepper and obtain high market share in the foreign countries.

However, Indian traders still say some of Sri Lanka’s Pepper shows inferior quality.

The Department of Agriculture said it has already completed a training programme to educate Pepper farmers in Nalada, Matale to improve quality standards of the pepper.

Mr. Dede Kusuma Edi Idris, the Executive Director of IPC and Dr. Risyafheri, Pepper Processing Specialist attended the training programe. This training programme is a part of a series of the project activities carried out by the Department of Export Agriculture with the support from IPC and Regional Office for Asia Pacific.

The Department sources have confirmed that the International Pepper Community [IPC] assisted this training project by providing Pepper Experts. The Department of Agriculture, Sri Lanka has successfully implemented an IPC/FAO project on “Improved Incomes and Livelihoods of Villagers in the Matale District, Sri Lanka, via Productivity Increase and Quality Improvement of Pepper and Marketing of Value-added Pepper Products".

The project aims to improve pepper quality through establishment of a package of small-scale equipment for threshing, blanching, decorticating, drying, grinding and packaging of pepper for collective use by a farmers’ group in the area.

Earlier, a small-scale pepper processing unit has been set up in Nalanda. The unit is equipped with Pepper thresher with berries separator, pepper blanching unit, decorticators, oven dryer, solar dyer, sun dryer and pepper cleaners. This pepper processing site can also serve as a model for similar processing centers and as an extension centre for training farmers on pepper quality improvement in Sri Lanka.

On completion of the project, it is expected that the pepper farmers near Nalanda could process a part of their green pepper harvest at the project site, and more importantly, to appreciate the need for improvement of pepper quality to obtain better returns. Farmers are expected to have better access to markets when their output is marketed collectively and have options as to the products they wish to market such as black pepper, white pepper, light berries, in bulk or in retail packs.

However, Sri Lankan sources say that Indian Pepper farmers and the traders want to reduce Sri Lanka's Pepper exports to India. But the farming community said that a number of state and non governmental organizations have came forward to improve the quality of pepper.

According to the Practical Action-a worldwide NGO, the farmers must follow proper guidelines to improve local pepper products.

According to the Practical Action, the crop should be cleaned before processing. The first stage is to remove dust and dirt using a winnowing basket. This can be made locally from bamboo, palm or other leaves. Someone used to this work can remove the dust, dirt and stones quickly and efficiently (e.g. they could clean 100 kg of pepper in an eight-hour day). Small machines are available for cleaning but they are rarely cost effective.

After winnowing the crop needs to be washed in water, all that is needed is two or three 15 liter buckets. For larger quantities a 1m³ sink/basin with a plug hole needs to be constructed. This can be made out of concrete. However, the water must be changed regularly to prevent recontamination of spices by dirty water. Only potable water should be used.

This is by far the most important stage in the process to ensure good quality spices. Inadequately dried produce will lead to mould growth. The sale value of moldy spices can be less than 50% of the normal value. In addition the growth of food poisoning bacteria on some spices is a real danger if proper washing and drying is not carried out.

Grinding may also add value but must be done carefully as there are difficulties. A whole, intact product can be easily assessed for quality whereas a ground product is more difficult. There is a market resistance to ground spices due to fear of adulteration or the use of low quality spices. This can only be overcome by producing a consistently high quality product and gaining the confidence of customers.

For small-scale production (up to 100kg/day) manual grinders are adequate. Small Chinese or Indian models designed for domestic spice grinding are suitable. A treadle or bicycle could be attached to make the work easier.

For larger scale production a small, powered grinding mill is needed and models are available that can grind 25kg/hour. A grinding mill needs to be placed in a separate and well ventilated room because of the dust. Great care is needed to ensure uniform sized pieces/powders after grinding and also to prevent heating of spices during grinding.

The packaging requirements depend on: 1) the type of spice, 2) whether it is ground or intact and 3) the humidity of storage. Most intact spices will store adequately in sacks/boxes if the humidity of the air is not too high. Ground spices can also be stored without special packaging if humidity is low but over long periods there is a loss of flavor and risk of contamination and spillage.

It is therefore better to store spices in a barrier film such as polypropylene (essential in areas of high humidity) to provide an attractive package, retain spice quality and prevent contamination and losses. If polypropylene is not available, cellulose film is adequate if it is heat sealable. Polythene is a poor substitute and should only be used for short term storage as it allows the flavor/aroma of the spices to escape.

The Pepper community said the IPC Pepper Price Index increased by 11.32 points for black and 4.06 points for white during the month of January, 2007. The Price Index has risen sharply since July 2006 before easing slightly towards end of 2006. The IPC Price Index and composite price of black and white pepper are shown in Table 1 and 2 below.

- Asian Tribune -

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