A comprehensive strategy to improve value addition of pepper products is needed if the country is to achieve the ambitious targets set by the Government, the Vietnam Pepper Association has said.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has set targets of expanding the area under pepper to 150,000ha and exports of 1 billion USD by 2015.

The country had 50,000ha under pepper and exported 120,000 tonnes worth 720 million USD last year.

The VPA said though Vietnam accounts for 50 percent of total global pepper exports, the value is much lower than it can be because the country's export prices are much lower than others'.

VPA figures show that the price is often just 80 percent of global prices. In 1993-1996 it was a mere 50 percent.

The record prices the country got last year of 7,000 USD a tonne for black pepper and 10,000 USD for white pepper were still just 90 percent of global rates.

VPA experts blamed this on the export of unprocessed pepper, revealing 70 percent of Vietnam 's exports is unprocessed.

Besides, Vietnam exports its pepper using several layers of intermediaries before the spice reaches foreign consumers.

Other factors include the fact that most Vietnamese pepper producers and exporters do not invest in modern plants or post-harvest processing technologies.

They also do not bother to develop brand names, and as a result not many consumers know about Vietnam 's products though the country accounts for half of all the world's pepper.

Some companies like Phu Nhuan Services Joint Stock Company, Vietnam Intimex Joint Stock Company and Hanoi Export-Import Services and Production Company have pepper processing factories, but they only produce clean pepper and no other processed products.

An executive at a major pepper export company also said most Vietnamese pepper producers are unwilling to spend on processing equipment and plants of international standards since they require large amounts of money and lending interest rates are too high.

They are also wary because they have yet to get a firm foothold in the global market, he said.

The VPA said the strategy will have to focus on encouraging pepper producers to invest in processing technologies to improve value addition and build brand names for Vietnamese pepper products.

It also said export companies should hire capable marketing staff to promote Vietnamese pepper products at prices closes to world rates.-VNA