Cultivating Sarawak Pepper

by Uwe Fischer // 

Pepper has been associated with Malaysia, especially Sarawak, for more than a century. According to historical facts, pepper was first planted in Malaysia in 1619 on the Langkawi and thereafter brought to Sarawak in 1852 by the Teochew Chinese and was systematically planted in Sarawak in 1875 during the administration of the Brooke government.

Bret Saalwaechter/flickr

Today, pepper is one of the main agricultural products of the country. Most of the pepper planting can be found in Sarawak, making Sarawak pepper a household brand in the international spice market. The industry consists of 67,000 pepper farmers, with the majority residing in the rural areas of Sarawak. The state accounts for more than 90% of the country’s total pepper production of around 29,000 metric tonnes in 2016. Apart from Sarawak, pepper is also planted in Sabah and peninsula Malaysia, especially in Johor. Currently, Malaysia is the world’s fifth largest producer of pepper, having generated earnings of 1.93 billion ringgit within the last five years. The pepper-based products Malaysia offers include green pepper pickle, black pepper sauce, green pepper sauce, asam pedas paste, green pepper vinaigrette and five-spice seasoning.

A stringent quality control system had been implemented as early as 1974, known as the Sarawak Pepper Grading System, which is still in use to this present day. In 2007, the Malaysian Government established the Malaysian Pepper Board (MPB). The Board is responsible for the development of the Malaysian Pepper Industry in terms of production, marketing and research. Being a federal statutory body, the board receives its annual budget from the Malaysian federal government for the development of the pepper industry. Besides, MPB also markets pepper products under its own brand “SaraSpice”.

Sarawak Pepper prides itself as having the best quality of pepper with the promotion trade mark “Hallmark of Quality”. This is achieved and controlled by Quality Control Laboratories in Kuching, Sarikei and Sibu which are responsible for the testing of pepper consignments for exports in order to support the grading system.

“All pepper consignments especially for export market are closely monitored and are required to undergo processing to ensure that the consignment meets the grade specification as required by the buyer. Methods of processing vary from dry and wet to steam treated that meets the specifications of the grade specifications. Every consignment is inspected, graded and certified by the Board prior to shipment. Any consignment that fails the quality testing will be rejected for export and would have to undergo the retesting regiment again,” says Hugh Paul Samat, the Assistant Director of MPB’s Strategik Planning Division. He adds, that “all pepper products are of good quality and safe for consumption. Our ISO accredited Quality Control Laboratories check all pepper consignments for residue level analysis for pesticides and heavy metals. Apart from that, we also train all of our pepper farmers to adopt Good Agricultural Practices in planting, producing, processing and marketing of pepper. We also implement Integrated Pest Management Programs through our monthly extension programs where pepper producing areas are closely monitored to inculcate good practices and habits.”

There are some general observations to help determine whether or not pepper has a good quality pepper, according to Mr Samat: “First, the pepper berries should be relatively uniformed in size, colour, texture and have good aroma and flavour; second: pepper must be dry, not mouldy and not containing extraneous matter. Furthermore, it should not be mixed with light berries or other matters such as sand, stones, etc and not contain pesticide residues and heavy metals.”

Although the amount of pepper produced in Malaysia has continuously been rising, the annual export volumes have been more or less the same on average. In 2006, the total production was 19,000 tonnes with 16,600 tonnes being exported. Ten years later, total production had risen to over 29,000 tonnes while the exports declined to 12,200 tonnes.

Year  Production (Tonnes) Export


2006 19,104 16,602
2007 20,145 15,065
2008 22,218 13,391
2009 21,915 13,122
2010 24,227 14,077
2011 25,600 14,201
2012 26,000 10,588
2013 26,500 12,105
2014 27,500 13,429
2015 28,300 13,624
2016 29,245 12,199
2017p 31,000 16,000


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