In the state of Chiapas, southeastern Mexico, about 500 producers have stopped harvesting corn to dedicate themselves to the production of fat pepper (dioic pepper), an activity that extends in nine municipalities of the entity, including that of Copainalá, located in a high jungle region north of the state.
With an average of 100 tons per year, “Chiapas is one of the largest producers of fat pepper in Mexico in recent years,” said in an interview with Efe the head of the department of attention to municipalities of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries in Chiapas , Juan Diego Farrera Salinas.
According to the official, both producers and different organizations talk about the fact that this number of tons is sold annually.
“The commercialization is national since they sell to national companies and these in turn export to other countries. 70% goes to the international market and 30% stays in the states of Michoacán, Chihuahua and Monterrey,” he explained.
Fat pepper, a species native to Mexico and Central America, has long been used by different indigenous communities in Chiapas as currency in so-called barter, a system of exchange of material goods, for ancestral use.
In addition, given its nature, it is also used as a repellent and is much in demand by the pharmaceutical and perfume industry, it is also a meat preservative and is used in essential or volatile oils.
Given this attraction, the zoques, Mexican ethnicity from the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Tabasco, have also considered pepper production as their main activity.
The president of the Jotiquetz Pepper Cooperative Society, Jorge Núñez González, said in an interview with Efe that this indigenous group has analyzed this possibility “after the price of coffee and corn collapsed, leaving this species greater profits.”
He explained that in 2019 the cooperative sold at 48 pesos (about 2.5 dollars) a kilogram of pepper.
“We are talking that the ton was sold at 48,000 pesos (about 2,580 dollars) and coffee is trading at 28,000 pesos (1,500 dollars) a ton, that is, they are 20,000 pesos (about 1,075 dollars) apart, then the pepper leaves good profit, “he said.
For this species, the producers carry out a backyard agriculture, spaces where it is cultivated continuously throughout the year, through a family and practically artisanal workforce, with little support and little technology, compared to the international producers who make use of technology
The zoque producer, Jorge González Vázquez, told Efe that he has inherited a hectare of land where you can see coffee, cocoa and pepper crops and with the help of his children and 10 external workers they achieved a production of 500 kilos of pepper, whose sale allows you to live and maintain your polyculture.
“There is a lot of work here, everything is manual, it is cut, it is shelled, then it passes to the drying of the pepper, the amount of kilos is collected (about 500), with the help of fans the product is cleaned and we deliver a clean product and organic, “he said.
According to official records, the cultivation of fat pepper in Mexico is mainly located on the slope of the Gulf of Mexico, from the north of the states of Puebla and Veracruz, to the south of the Yucatan Peninsula and the coastal plain of the southeast.
The species is also cultivated in the states of San Luis Potosí, Hidalgo, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Tabasco, Campeche and Quintana Roo and Chiapas, a state that has an area of 600 hectares dedicated to production, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fishing in Chiapas.
Worldwide, Mexico ranks second in production and export of fat pepper after Jamaica and almost all of the spice cultivation refers to this variety.
Sowing in Mexico is done entirely under the temporary modality, so it depends on the environmental conditions to develop.
According to data from the National Financial Development Agricultural, Rural, Forestry and Fisheries, the period of greatest activity for cutting and harvesting is from June to October, when the fruit reaches maturity before being processed.
Given the results that fat pepper has given in Chiapas, local producers seek support to become exporters of the species that cannot be lacking in all kitchens in Mexico and the world, this to avoid marketing with resellers, also called “coyotes” , who aim to buy cheap from producers and sell expensive to exporters.
“We want fair prices guaranteed, that the producer has no doubts and thus prevent them from migrating to other countries or looking for another alternative to move forward with their family, having a guaranteed price one works with greater confidence,” said Núñez González.