Madagascar wild pepper is about to change recipes forever, and one co-op is forming to make sure it’s sustainable

Written by Sarah Crozier

Tsiperifery pepper [photo: BBC]Tsiperifery pepper [photo: BBC]Tsiperifery pepper [photo: BBC]Everyone knows black pepper. It's ubiquitous on tables and in recipes around the world. But there’s a wild pepper in Madagascar that might change “black pepper” forever.

Currently, most consumers don’t think about the variety of pepper they grind over their food. But an endemic spice from the forests on the eastern coast of Madagascar—with its strong pepper taste and acidic, citrus finish—delivers a much different flavor than typical black pepper and has been winning chefs over around the world.

While the pepper, known as tsiperifery (pronounced “tsee-pear-fair”), is harvested in the wild, it is still currently exported as Piper borbonense, the black pepper from Reunion Island. But, a team of researchers from the French agricultural research organization CIRAD is working on adding a new classification to the pepper family given its endemic nature and unique characteristics.

NCBA CLUSA first came across this unique pepper while working with farmers on the eastern part of Madagascar. In partnership with Catholic Relief Services on the USAID|Fararano project, NCBA CLUSA provides technical support to farmers setting up producer and collection point organizations, links to market and value chain development. Over the length of the project we aim to strengthen 360 producer organizations and cooperatives and support 5,400 farmers.

Strengthening farmer-market relationships, NCBA CLUSA saw an opportunity for rural farmers to link with a local wild pepper exporter, Jacarandas. In a consortium between the USAID|Fararano project, ValBio Research Center and the spice exporter, NCBA CLUSA connected them with the EZAKA Producer Association in the Ifanadiana District of Madgascar.

One EZAKA farmer member, Lucien Rabeolivelo, remembers learning about the potential for wild pepper.

“[The Jacarandas team] visited the forest with us and we showed them the wild vines we had. While we did not know the product had a market value, we were sometimes using it for cooking,” Lucien said.

The EZAKA farmers were not harvesting or drying the wild pepper properly, but with training the producer organization could start sustainable harvesting and proper processing for high-quality tsiperifery production. ValBio Research Center is helping to GPS map wild vines and set up pepper nurseries to replant the forest. NCBA CLUSA is supporting the group on becoming a legal cooperative, facilitating buyer relationships and helping the group get a harvesting permit.

EZAKA Farmers Madagascar Lucien 500EZAKA Farmers Madagascar Lucien 500From left: Mr. Rajaonarivelo, president of the EZAKA farmer association, with Lucien Rabealivelo, finance controller of the association. [Photo: Caitlin Welte/CRS Madagascar] After explaining the drying process and how to identify the right type of pepper, Jacarandas staff took some samples. The farmers waited to hear if their wild pepper would be worth exporting. After a few weeks, sample collectors said they were interested.

“This is a gift for us. We had this product in our forest, but we didn’t know it had any value,” Lucien said.

With project support, the farmers will be trained in how to sustainably harvest the pepper without pulling down the vines—which can grow on wild trees up to 40 meters high—dry, sort and package the pepper in order get the highest value. Since the pepper grows wild, with sustainable harvesting, the EZAKA farmers can get extra income with limited effort.

“These incomes come at the time of year when we need money. It will help us hire labor for our other fields, hire guards to ensure the security of our high-value crops and buy seeds and other inputs,” Lucien said.

As tsiperifery, with its unique citrus flavor, becomes more popular among chefs and consumers worldwide, ensuring sustainable harvest is key to creating an environment-first mission for the cooperative.

The USAID|Fararano project’s goal, led by Catholic Relief Services, is to reduce food insecurity and chronic undernutrition and increase resilience in three priority regions in Madagascar. By providing economic opportunities for local farmers and strengthening their associations and cooperatives, NCBA CLUSA is building resilient markets and increasing income for food insecure families.