Bình Phước pepper farmers hamstrung by worker shortage during harvest season

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Workers harvest pepper in Bình Phước Province’s Bù Đốp District. — VNA/VNS Photo

BÌNH PHƯỚC — Farmers in Bình Phước Province are getting high prices for pepper amid the ongoing harvest season but face a shortage of workers.

The south-eastern province, one of the country’s largest pepper growing areas, has nearly 16,000ha under pepper and is in the peak harvest season.

It is cultivated mostly in Bù Đốp, Lộc Ninh, Hớn Quản, and Bù Gia Mập districts.

The yield has increased by 30 per cent from last year, pepper farmers said.

But Vũ Văn Hoàng in Bù Đốp’s Hưng Phước Commune cannot find enough workers to harvest his 2ha field.

So he covers the ground around the plants with plastic sheets for workers to drop the pepper they pluck for collecting later, thus speeding up the harvest, he said.

Usually, when there are enough workers, the spice is collected in bags they carry, and the pepper is cleaner then, he said.

“This year the wages have increased.”

It used to be VNĐ180,000 (US$7.8) per day before the harvest season, but now is VNĐ220,000 ($9.6), but yet there are not enough workers to meet the demand, according to farmers.

Besides wages, the farmers also pay workers additional money for fuel and refreshments to attract them.

They attribute the shortage to the fact that many workers are now busy tending their own cashew orchards. The province is the country’s largest cashew producer.

Besides, many agricultural workers have stopped working as daily labour and moved to steady jobs at businesses.

Many farmers advertise on social media like Zalo and Facebook for workers.

If the pepper ripens but is not harvested in time, it falls to the ground and loses quality, they said.

Traders are paying VNĐ85,000 ($3.7) for a kilogram, nearly double last year’s price.

Nguyễn Văn Bắc, director of the Bù Đốp District Agriculture Service Centre, said prices are increasing, which is good news for farmers, companies and co-operatives.

It is the peak ripening period and farmers should try to harvest their pepper soon, he said, warning that letting ripe peppercorns fall to the ground could only be a temporary solution because it would affect the next crop.

Lê Thị Ánh Tuyết, deputy director of the province Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said the province is implementing a project for clean agriculture development, building brand names, developing the pepper market and offering preferential policies to develop hi-tech agriculture to ensure pepper farmers have stable incomes. — VNS

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