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Changing the growth of Pepper for Verstegen

Pepper, the mother of our white, green and black pepper, grows in extremely humid climates where temperature never falls below 60 F (16 C). Pepper (Piper nigrum) is a vine with beautiful heart-shaped leaves, it grows on a support from hanging aerial roots and produces small spike like white flowers in summer before setting fruits. The pepper vine loves dappled shade, like a spot that receives daylong filtered sunlight. For Dutch Verstegen, reNature and Preta Terra is developing a sustainable system for white pepper production that provides enough shade and moist conditions. 

Pepper plants grow best in a deep, well-draining soil with a good capacity to retain water. The soil should be rich in organic matter with a pH between 5.5 and 6.0. The plants require an annual rainfall of approximately 2000 mm and will require additional irrigation in drier areas. Ideal for agroforestry.

The origin of pepper

Pepper is native to South India, and is extensively cultivated in tropical regions like Brazil, Myanmar and Indonesia.
Vietnam is the biggest producer of pepper (39% of the world’s pepper production) followed by Indonesia with 15%. Only in 2016 Indonesia produced 82.000 tons of pepper. That is the equivalent to five container ships carrying only peppercorns.
Other major producers include India (10%), and Brazil (10%). Global pepper production may vary annually according to crop management, disease, and weather.

The difference between white, green and black pepper

You may wonder whether white, green and black pepper are coming from the same plant. The answer is yes. The processing method differs:

  • black pepper is cooked and sun-dried unripe fruit,
  • green pepper is sun-dried unripe fruit, and
  • white pepper is processed ripe fruit seeds.
Picture: Bruna Todeschini de Quadros

    The biggest threats to pepper are fungi, insects and drought.

    The main challenge is drought resilience and regeneration of depleted land.

    As pepper loves humidity, the soil has to be moist and should be rich in organic matter. Ideal for agroforestry. The Dutch herbs and spices company Verstegen asked reNature to develop a system dedicated to produce pepper that is able to survive the dry season with less irrigation.
    The 1.2 hectare test plot offered by Verstegen and CAN was also once a rubber plantation and was left for dead and useless for any form of agriculture. This means that in addition to create a sustainable pepper production, the new system also needs to revitalize the depleted soil.

    Verstegen testplot in development

    Ginger and turmeric intertwined with white pepper

    The Agroforestry system simulates the natural situation in which mixed crops are planted in several layers. The bottom layer consists of vegetables and herbs such as ginger and turmeric. The shrubs are planted above them with spices such as white pepper but also berries and fruits. The upper layer consists of trees with fruit and nuts, among others. By mimicking nature agriculture provides more biodiversity, higher returns for farmers, healthier plants, better harvest quality, and better soil conditions.

    White Pepper agroforestry design

    In addition, the diversity of the crop system provides the farmer more income sources and therefore more financial security on the same piece of land.

    Working with Brazilian Preta Terra

    To develop a solid agroforestry system reNature put together international and local agroforestry experts to design and develop agroforestry systems, and brings together a team of volunteers to prepare the land and plant the system.
    For the Verstegen white pepper test plot, reNature asked Valter Ziantoni and Paula Costa (Preta Terra) to design the agroforestry system. Besides the cash crop white pepper (Pipper nigrum), The system contains a diversity of trees to provide shadow and nutrients like Mahogany, King of fruit, Mango, Avocado, Jackfruit, Rambutans, Rain tree, and Gliricidia to carry the pepper vine. Further more to create more financial independency, the system also provides Banana, Turmeric, Ginger, Pinapple, Pumpkin and Casava.

    reNature works together with the farmers to apply the techniques themselves. For this, local agroforestry expert Krisna Putra Waworuntu will give workshops to the farmers, the local community and the reNature volunteers.

    The Verstegen Agroforestry Multiplier.

    The 1.2 hectare agroforestry model farm that is in development will be used as a showcase for a sustainable agroforestry system for white pepper production. The design and the experience with the design, will be available for all pepper farmers that deliver pepper to Verstegen. This means that a possible 50.000 hectare of farmland will be regenerated.

    About our partner Verstegen

    Verstegen logo reNature PepperVerstegen stands for sustainable entrepreneurship and this small-scale project in Bangka is an example of this. Verstegen wants all internal processes in 2025 to be CO2 neutral and has an active waste management policy. ReNature is their partner in this transition. By regenerating farmland, restoring nature and sustaining food production, Verstegen and reNature contribute to the better world, ready for the next generation.

    General Info
    General Info

    • Location: Bangka Island – Indonesia.
    • Size: 1,2 ha
    • Challenge: Developing agroforestry pepper production
    • Period: March – September 2019


    • Assigned by: Verstegen Spices
    • Project Manager: Gilmee Davids
    • Coordinator: Tirion Keatinge
    • Volunteers: Bruna Todeschini de Quadros, Yayang Vionita, Connor Dunn, Milene Couto, Lucas Vieira, Bruno Lenzi
    • Consultancy: Valter Ziantoni and Paula Costa (Preta Terra)
    • Workshop: Krisna Putra Waworuntu