Pangkalpinang (ANTARA) - Bangka Belitung (Babel) is renowned not only for its natural beauty and tin commodity but also for its high-quality white pepper.

The pepper produced in this province has gained global recognition due to its unique characteristics not found in other regions.

White pepper has emerged as one of the primary commodities of the islands and has been a popular agricultural product among the local community for generations.

It has received the geographical indication (GI) certification from the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, with registry number 000000004, dated January 21, 2010.

Babel white pepper stands out in terms of quality and distinctive taste compared to pepper from other regions. Its appeal lies in its high piperine content, with a sharpness level ranging from 5-7 percent, and a strong essential oil aroma.

White pepper is often used to add a spicy flavor, impart aromatic properties to dishes, and eliminate fishy smells.

Bangka Belitung is the largest producer of white pepper in Indonesia, followed by Lampung, West Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, Papua, West Nusa Tenggara, North Maluku, and Yogyakarta.

Despite being the top producer and having high quality, the availability of pepper in Babel is declining each year in terms of both land area and production.

Data from the province's agriculture service between 2018-2022 indicates that pepper production increased only in 2019, while the land area and production of pepper commodities decreased during the 2020-2022 period.

The area of pepper plantations reached 51,404 hectares in 2018 and increased to 52,688 hectares in 2019. However, it declined to 52,192 hectares in 2020, 49,465 hectares in 2021, and further dropped to 44,548 hectares in 2022.

The production of pepper is directly proportional to the plantation land area. Approximately 32,810 tons of pepper were harvested in 2018, which increased to 33,458 tons in 2019.

However, production declined to 29,441 tons in 2020, and the downward trend continued with only 27,167 tons recorded in 2021, reaching 26,408.82 tons in 2022.

The decline in pepper plantation area and production can be attributed to various factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the price of pepper in the global market.

Pepper farmers have been shifting their professions to become tin miners or work in palm oil plantations due to the low price of white pepper.

To incentivize farmers to continue cultivating pepper, there is a need for collaborative efforts to improve the pepper trading system and increase the price of white pepper in local, national, and international markets.

The Pepper Management, Development, and Marketing Agency (BP3L) of Bangka Belitung Islands, in coordination with the local government, the Ministry of Trade, and the International Pepper Community (IPC), aims to establish a pepper trading system that can encourage farmers to focus on pepper cultivation.

Implementing a pepper trading system would enable Bangka Belitung to become a determinant of pepper prices in Indonesia, similar to countries like Malaysia, India, and Brazil, which already have such systems in place.

Suganda Pandapotan Pasaribu, the Acting Governor of Bangka Belitung, urges pepper business actors to engage in immediate discussions regarding the pepper trading system, setting aside personal interests and prioritizing the collective benefits.

The Central Bangka District Government in Babel also encourages farmers to persevere in planting pepper despite the unstable price.

The Head of the Central Bangka Agricultural Service, Sajidin, acknowledges that some farmers have shifted to working in the palm oil and tin ore mining sectors, but emphasizes the long-term benefits of pepper cultivation.

Pepper plants can thrive for many years under the right conditions, contributing to the strengthening of the local economy.

The local government continues to support farmers by distributing superior seeds and providing technological equipment to boost production, thereby reducing production costs through the utilization of the latest technology and organic fertilizers.

Through these concerted efforts, it is hoped that pepper, the "King of Spice", will regain its position as the main commodity from Babel. This would prevent a further shift towards tin and palm oil commodities that have started to replace current pepper plantations.

Pepper farmers who are currently persevering are reminded not to be enticed by the instant profits offered in the mining sector. The mining sector provides only temporary benefits, as the cultivated land becomes unusable, resulting in a loss of livelihood for the community.

Therefore, support from the local government and other relevant parties is crucial to maintaining the price of pepper and establishing a sustainable trading system that serves as an economic source for the people of Bangka Belitung.

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Translator: Joko Susilo, Resinta S
Editor: Anton Santoso
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