Penja Pepper is one of only three African commodities to be given a geographical indication label, prohibiting the product’s name from being used outside of its original region © Hemis/Alamy Stock Photo
A farmer association in Penja village, in the Littoral region of eastern Cameroon, has been awarded an internationally protected geographical indication (PGI) label for its product, Penja Pepper. With support from the French development agency, Agence Française de Développement, the association obtained patented rights over the product name from the African Intellectual Property Organization in 2013. Since then, membership of the farmers’ association has increased by more than 10 times, and the price of the coveted white pepper has skyrocketed.
According to agricultural experts, Penja valley’s natural micro-climate and volcanic soil on the flanks of Mt. Kupe Muanenguba give the pepper (spice) a unique flavour and taste, attracting increasing demand in national, regional and international markets. The product is one of only three African commodities – alongside Oku honey from Cameroon and Ziama Macenta coffee from Guinea – to be given a PGI label, prohibiting the product’s name from being used outside of its original region. Approximately 60% of the Penja Pepper is consumed locally and in neighbouring countries, whilst 40% is exported to European markets. “It is a real blessing for Cameroon and especially the farmers in Penja to see that Penja Pepper is fast becoming an export crop like cocoa and coffee,” says Henry Eyebe Ayissi, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.
The label ensures adherence to strict guidelines by the farmers to maintain the highest standards. Guideline rules include ensuring farmers are producing the pepper within mapped out perimeters, accepting the code of conduct set out by the association, and receiving regular inspection by a team of association members, says Emmanuel Nzenewo, executive secretary of the Penja Pepper Farmers Association (PPFA). Adherence to the guidelines has contributed to the continuous improvement of product quality confirms Nzenewo. “The farmers in the region have been working hard to keep the natural quality of the product and today that effort is paying off,” says Amos Ngolle of the divisional delegation of agriculture in Moungo.
Successful certification, and subsequent demand from restaurants around the world, has increased production from less than 150 t in 2014 to 350 t in 2016. The price of the spice has also increased significantly since certification, from €3.80 per kg before September 2013 to €12 per kg in 2014, and €21.30 in 2015/2016. This price spike is helping farmers improve their incomes and expand production areas. “Since certification, the market for our product has become stable and secure, guaranteeing our income,” states David Nzoto, a PPFA farmer member. Another farmer, Garbielle Elung, has extended his farm from 8 ha in 2012 to 12 ha in 2017. The increasing price has also encouraged more farmers to join the association and membership has grown from 20 to over 300 since 2013.
The growing of Penja Pepper is also increasingly attracting youths, employing over 500 young people in the region during harvest periods. “I employ no less than 20 youths in my farm during harvest periods because it is really labour intensive. We do the harvesting, cleaning and drying before sales,” says Elung. According to the association’s president, particular efforts are ongoing to get more youths interested, such as the provision of training in pepper production and the creation of new plantations.
Given the increasing economic importance of Penja Pepper, in 2016 the government constructed and equipped an office for the farmers’ association, and provided them with 10 tractors and 15 boreholes for portable water. This has helped improve production and enabled the provision of water year-round.