Fair Trade pepper
The first steps have been taken in Verstegen's next sustainability project; Pepper from Banka. For the whole of its 129-year existence, Verstegen has been buying white pepper from the Indonesian island of Banka, which it sells under the name Muntok pepper. Muntok is the name of the island's old port.
Why white Muntok pepper from Banka? Due to the soil type, the climate and the processing method developed by Verstegen in partnership with the farmers, the white pepper from Banka has a unique warm flavour. Whereas most white pepper is merely hot, the Banka pepper contains many additional aromas. Naturally, Verstegen is therefore dependent on sufficient cultivation on the island, because if the farmers stop growing it, there is no more Muntok pepper.
The island of Banka also has large tin deposits. Rising metals prices have made it financially attractive to extract this tin from the ground. As a result, the temptation is very strong for farmers to go and work in the tin mines instead of growing pepper. However, the former option has disastrous consequences for the environment. As part of the tin-mining process, the soil is completely rinsed clean to reveal the tin. During this rinsing process, all the nutrients are also flushed out of the soil, which in the long term can result in infertile soil. Alongside pepper, monocultures such as palm oil and rubber are popular crops in Indonesia and thus also on Banka. In contrast to palm oil and rubber, pepper makes a strong contribution to biodiversity. This is therefore one of the things that Verstegen wants to highlight to the local population.
In order to help the farmers, Verstegen is setting up a training project in which farmers learn to get better yields from the pepper plants. Per plant, the yield can be increased from 1.5 kg to 2.5 kg! Together with the local University of Bogor (supported by Wageningen University), Verstegen has plans to set up a model garden where the new techniques can be used. For example, a different, cheaper way of supporting the pepper plant is used. The farmers are also taught to use artificial fertilizers safely and where possible make use of manure from their own livestock and natural compost. It may even be possible to start producing artificial fertilizer in a sustainable manner on the island itself. Naturally, the application of Good Agricultural Practices is also on the programme. This involves teaching the farmers to work as hygienically as possible and which (statutory and other) rules need to be observed.
In order to obtain white pepper from peppercorns, they need to be fermented. Fermentation involves soaking the pepper in water in order to obtain the fine white kernels. Pepper fermentation currently still takes place in small streams, but that means the pepper has to be guarded by the farmers, which costs them extra time and money. By giving the farmers the opportunity to ferment the pepper close to their homes, they no longer have to worry about the pepper being stolen. They are also taught how to do that during the training project. In the longer term, the establishment of a cooperative is also envisaged which will offer the possibility of safely storing the pepper, for example. Through a cooperative like this, fertilizer and seed can be purchased jointly and information about market prices exchanged. It may even be possible to jointly invest in equipment for cleaning and so also keep selection of the unique Verstegen quality in our own hands.
Fair trade spices
The Netherlands Association for the Spice Trade, together with the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) has resolved to make 20% of European pepper imports fair trade. As joint initiator and partner in this product, Verstegen is aiming for all its pepper to be fair trade in 2020 and has taken the first steps towards this.