The history of pepper cultivation and trade is a rich one, full of adventures, voyages to unknown lands and the building of lavish palaces with the money made from the peppercorn trade. The history of pepper cultivation in the Kampot region is not left behind.
Pepper has been cultivated in Cambodia since the Khmer Empire, a tradition that goes back to the time when the ancient Premyslids ruled our Czech territory. However, the first detailed description of pepper cultivation in the Kampot region dates back to the 13th century. It was during this period that a Chinese envoy named Zhou Daguan arrived in what is now Kampot and devoted part of his writings to the way the ancient Khmer people cultivated pepper and their customs. As a result, his work is still one of the main sources of information on the culture of the Khmer Empire.
Although trade between the old continent and distant Asia was already in full swing in the 16th century, it was not until much later that Europeans discovered the uniqueness of Kampot's black gold. This was in the 19th century, when a port was built in Kampot, where merchant ships from all over the world arrived. In this era, the production of Kampot pepper intensified, only for the plantations to fall into disrepair not long afterwards.
This occurred during the wars between the Sultanate of Aceh and the Dutch, who originally came to the area only for trade. However, the Dutch eventually brought destruction to the area and fragmented the Sultanate. As a reward, its leader had the plantations burned to prevent them falling into the hands of the Dutch enemies.
However, it is typical of the Kampot pepper-growing tradition that it is able to rise from the ashes. It did so after the Aceh wars, so that by the mid-20th century pepper from the area had become the dominant spice on European markets. In 1928, most of the pepper used in France came from this region, and by the 1960s production had reached a staggering 8,000 tonnes a year.
As is often the case, however, a sharp rise is often followed by a steep fall. This time it came in the form of the Khmer Rouge, who decimated the country in an unprecedented manner. The 8,000-strong production suddenly shrank to just 4 tonnes a year, and local farmers concentrated mainly on growing rice in an attempt to avoid famine.
Now, the tradition of pepper farming in this area is coming back to life, and we at .pepper..field are grateful to be a part of its rebirth.