By Elizabeth Niven
In the movie Forrest Gump, if Bubba had been talking about red pepper instead of shrimp, he would still be making his list: Anyway, like I was sayin’ you can use red pepper as seasoning, in salads, in gumbo, in stew, in soup, dry, fresh, crushed, as powder, in barbecue sauce, on meat, on potatoes, on chips, in rice, in casseroles, in tacos, boil with it, bake with it, sauté with it, for flavor in Mexican, Creole, Cajun, Thai, Szechuan and Indian cooking…
The red pepper industry is experiencing a profound change in northeast China, driven by the Golden Tower pepper seed. This hybrid seed, developed by Monsanto and distributed by the Golden Tower Group, offers increased yield and income for farmers.
Since 2004, Monsanto and GTG have worked with farmers in China to showcase the high-yielding GT seed by conducting 40 to 50 farm demonstrations in every village they could reach. The unique aspect of the partnership is that GTG is a seed dealer-turned-pepper processing company. The company actually changed its name to reflect its dedication to Golden Tower pepper seed. In its role in the partnership GTG is the pepper buyer, giving farmers an immediate, ready market to buy the peppers they produce.
At farm demonstrations, farmers learn new methods for fertilizing, watering, crop dusting, disease prevention and harvesting plants grown from GT pepper seed. And they have the opportunity to talk to other farmers with more experience using hybrid seed.
Once farmers convert to GT pepper seed from an open-pollinated variety pepper seed, they can expect yield increases of up to 130 percent. In 2011, the average yield of dry pepper in fields planted with the GT hybrid increased from 2,250 kg per hectare to 5,250 kg per hectare, which is equivalent to 26,250 kg/ha of fresh pepper.
Hongge Cai, from the village of Heishui, in Tao’nan city in the Jilin province, is a typical GTG farmer. The 49-year–old corn farmer fed his wife and two sons on 2 hectares of land. His annual earnings of $2,000 were barely enough to support his growing family. When his older son was accepted by a college, Cai could not afford to send him.
At a Monsanto Golden Tower Pepper field demonstration in his village, Cai realized that growing peppers could be an opportunity for him and his son. He purchased GT pepper seed, cultivation material and tools and became a pepper grower. In a few years, after a fivefold increase in earnings from pepper farming, his son enrolled in college and Cai built a new house for his family.
For the past six years, the Monsanto China vegetable team has traveled more than 150 days per year to help farmers with new seed and new agricultural practices. Cai is one of more than 30,000 farmers whose lives have been impacted by this effort to enhance current pepper-growing methods in northeast China.
“One of the most important aspects of our growers program is the farmer support,” said Qiming Peng, Monsanto China marketing lead. “When Cai attended our field demonstration, he wanted to know about pest and disease prevention and a guaranteed market or purchase price for his peppers. We address agronomic services with our technical team and we coordinate purchase contracts between GTG and growers, which offers GT farmers 50 percent more than the market price of open-pollinated peppers.”
The practice of offering growers a guaranteed buyer and price for their products inspires more farmers to try the new seeds. In 2012, sales for new seeds increased from 3,000 kg to 4,500 kg and the number of participating farmers went from 30,000 to 45,000.
The success of this project has bolstered all phases of the northeast China pepper industry, from pepper farming, to transportation, processing, storing and marketing. Despite the recent success, hybrid peppers only hold 20 percent of the pepper market in China, leaving plenty of room for future growth.
Golden Tower Group and Monsanto plan to take this cooperative business model to five more provinces in northern China. GTG is one of the biggest Chinese high-quality pepper processors and one of the biggest pepper exporters to Korea. The world’s culinary pepper needs demand more pepper and Chinese farmers are working to meet those needs.
For small farmers in China, this means a better life for their families and communities. For the world, it means more opportunity to try red pepper according to Bubba’s “new” list.