Black pepper is perhaps the most well-known and most used spice in the world. An integral part of culinary heritage around the world, it is unique and diverse at the same time. Making up a quarter of the world's spice trade, black pepper is the most important seasoning from an economic point of view. In spite of, or perhaps as a result of, its diffusion, few consumers know where it comes from.
Originating in Southeast Asia, Piper nigrum spread to Malaysia over 200 years ago in the fertile state of Sarawak - one of the two states on the island of Borneo. Approximately 13,000 hectares of pepper are cultivated there today.
Near the river Rimbàs, is an inland agricultural area far from large inhabited centers, the Ibans, the largest native group of Sarawak, still cultivate the local variety of black pepper called Kuching.
The village of Babu Sedebau is composed of 12 families living together under the same roof in the characteristic pile-dwelling or longhouse. Each family has its own entrance door and apartment, which faces a long communal veranda. It was Tr. Nyuang, the leader of the community, who ratified a law saying that the ownership of the land would go to the first person that had cultivated it. This was a way to ensure that land was passed down from father to son correctly and that all fields surrounding the longhouse would continue to be cultivated.
The pepper fields are small, one hectare contains about 200-to-300 plants, and the rows are arranged on a slight slope, crucial for avoiding the accumulation of excess water caused by the abundant tropical rains.
The plant has the form of a bush and grows around a post of ironwood (belian), the hardest, most resistant wood in nature, and the only one capable of enduring the equatorial climate. Pepper grains are collected when they turn from green to pale yellow. They are washed in water and left to dry in the sun.
The cultivation of pepper is not very profitable compared to that of the gum tree or the palm olive. It requires more work and, in contrast to rice, is not a primary commodity. Because of this, the families dedicate only their spare time to caring for the pepper plants.
The objectives of the Presidium are to improve the quality of the pepper and the production process, and to increase the amount of product harvested annually so that the producers might receive a better price for their product.
What is a Slow Food Presidia?
The Slow Food Presidia are projects sustaining quality production at risk of extinction, protecting unique regions and ecosystems, recovering traditional processing methods, safeguarding native breeds and local plant varieties.
Check out our website: http://www.slowfoodfoundation.com/presidia
Photos — Alberto Peroli