Vietnam, the world’s largest pepper exporter, is expected to ship 120,000 tonnes worth 800-850 million USD this year, more than a fifth up in value, according to the Vietnam Pepper Association (VPA).

Though export volumes are likely to remain virtually unchanged, average global prices of black and white pepper have increased by 30-35 percent this year to respectively 6,354 and 9,275 USD per tonne.

According to the International Pepper Community, global supply this year is estimated to fall by 23,691 tonnes to 388,907 tonnes while demand will remain high, keeping prices high.

“With 40-50 percent of the global market share, Vietnam has been able to dominate the market,” VPA chairman Do Ha Nam told a meeting held to mark the association’s 10 th anniversary in HCM City on May 16.

Pepper prices also hardened in the domestic market, going up from 30,000 VND per kilogram in 2010 to 80,000 VND last year.

Prices reached a record high a in April when black pepper cost more than 120,000 VND and white pepper, 190,000 VND.

The growth of the pepper industry improved the incomes of thousands of farmers, Nam said.

“But the pepper industry still faces many challenges,” Nam said.

“The current high prices of pepper have caused farmers to rush to plant trees,” he said.

The excessive use of fertilizers was threatening sustainable development of the sector by halving the life of trees to 10-12 year, he said.

“If farmers expand cultivation of pepper too much, supply will increase in the next three years and prices may fall, affecting them,” said Hoang Phuc Binh, deputy chairman of the Chu Se Coffee Association.

Both advised farmers to consider long-term benefits before switching from existing crops to pepper.

Nam said to sustain growth the sector needed to focus more on developing more Vietnamese brand names in addition to the existing Chu Se pepper.

“The pepper industry has built dozens of processing plants that can produce clean pepper to international standards. But firms should invest more in technologies to diversify products and improve quality to add value.”

The association said Vietnamese pepper is exported to more than 80 countries and territories, with the US being the largest importer, followed by the UAE and Germany .

The country had 52,171 ha under pepper, mainly in the six provinces of Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dac Nong, Binh Phuong, Dong Nai, and Ba Ria-Vung Tau.-VNA