Most Nigerian homes, especially in the Southwest region, who consume good quantity of pepper, may have to endure the current high price of the commodity in the market.
For now, according to The Guardian survey, scarcity is the factor contributing to the current price increase.
The fact that pepper is a major spice used in foods makes it an essential commodity across the country. There is hardly a complete meal without use of at least one variety of pepper.
Pepper, according to study, has several usages. It is used as spice in many dishes and as decoration in food, to add flavour and colour. It is also used to provide relief for several ailments. It can be found in topical creams that are intended to reduce muscle pain, inflammation and itching.
It acts as a heart stimulant, which regulates blood flow and strengthens the arteries, possibly reducing heart attacks. It has soothing effects on the digestive system, offers relief from symptoms of colds, sore throats and fevers, circulation, especially for cold hands and feet, and as a hangover remedy.
Fresh peppers, as gathered are an excellent source of calcium and vitamin. It can be used to regulate blood sugar. Experts claim hot chilly peppers might help fight prostate cancer.
Though it comes in different varieties, but the ones commonly produced in Nigeria include: Bird peppers-Atawere, a very hot variety of pepper, it is short in length. Both ripe and unripe of this variety are used for preparing sauce; Cayenne or red pepper—Sombo, a very long and thin variety. It is a bit mild as regards to its hotness.
Capsicum annum-Atarodo, it is the most common variety in the market. The smaller sized type taste hotter than the bigger size; and Capsicum annum-Tatase, usually very mild in taste and very red in colour.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) statistics, it estimated world production of capsicum peppers in 2001 to be 21.3 million tonnes, from a harvested area of 1.6 million hectares (ha) (average yield 13.4 t/ha); with China emerging as the largest producer with 10 million tonnes, followed by Mexico-1.9 million tonnes and Turkey-1.5 million tonnes.
Production in tropical Africa is estimated at one million tonnes, with Nigeria producing 715,000 tonnes from 90,000 ha and Ghana producing 270,000 tonnes from 75,000 ha, as the largest producers.
A farmer, James Ogah told The Guardian that domestic demand for pepper has increased over time, as decline in production persists, which has resulted in perennial scarcity.
He noted that the development has drastically affected exportation of quantity of pepper being exported, as the country continues to lose foreign exchange that should have accrued from the pepper value-chain. “This signifies that there is need for increase in the supply of pepper to make up for the increase in the domestic demand and to also give room for export.”
The Guardian learnt that rising domestic demand, coupled with drop in export, continues to set the trend for the pepper market. Currently, the main suppliers of the commodity to the global market are Vietnam, India, Indonesia and Brazil; while the major destinations are the US, Europe, Japan and Australia.
Investigations show that the price of pepper in Nigeria is subjected to seasonal fluctuation. For instance, in the Southwest, pepper is brought in from the North, despite the fact that it is also grown in the Southwest, but by few farmers.
The insurgency in parts of the north, which displaced farmers, coupled with climate change and cost of transportation also add to rising cost of pepper.
Ogah hinted that despite the country’s pepper production level, the huge demand gap has forced the country to rely on importation to fill the gap.
A pepper seller, Abubakar Duru, confirmed the price increase. He said though they still maintain the least price of N50 for the smallest module of pepper, they have been forced to reduce the quantity, in order not to run at a loss.
Though he attested to the fact that scarcity due to displacement of farmers in the north, coupled with cost of transportation, is reason for the price increase, he however, said pests and diseases are also affecting pepper cultivation.
It was learnt that pests like Scales and mealy bugs; Coratitis capitata; and Borers are still ravaging farms, while diseases like Bacterial wilt; Fruit rot; and Virus, are responsible for stunted growth, which invariably lead to poor harvest.
Duru advocates government support to farmers in the area of sensitisation, input and financial support to enhance cultivation of the commodity in every part of the country, so that the issue of seasonal fluctuation can be permanently addressed.
But another farmer, Jelili Ahmed opposed Duru’s position, noting that pepper cannot just be cultivated on any soil like cassava, yam, maize and other crops that can thrive, irrespective of soil types.
He said pepper has soil requirements, which must be strictly adhered to if the farmer is willing to make any gain from the plantation. He said pepper thrives well in warm climate and requires well-drained silt or clay soil and favourable climatic condition.
Ahmed said planting on water logged and alkaline soil must also be avoided, adding that pepper grows well on highly nutritive soil with optimum soil moisture.
One other area he mentioned, which he said farmers are yet to find solution, is the area of storage. He said pepper lasts for only few days after harvest before it gets rotten and with this, “We only get half or quarter of what we harvest. That is the reason why most farmers are abandoning pepper farming for other profitable crops.”
Ogah said the country has the capacity to almost double present pepper output, saying there is no need to increase the acreage. “We can use the same area we are planting, with improved technology so that we can double the yield per unit area.
“If we double the production, for me, the perennial price fluctuation will be eradicated, as there will be enough to meet local demand on one hand, and to gain in export markets.