Purchasing Sri Lanka formerly known as Ceylon is known to many for its tea But there are other delicious plants to be found growing in the tropical island country which lies to the south east of India Take pepper The climbing plants which can grow up to ten metres in length are farmed for us by smallholders working for the Small Organic Farmers As sociation Crops are generally planted in a mixed culture in the small spice gar dens clove trees grow alongside turmeric in full bloom ginger plants next to delicate little cinnamon trees Depending on which garden you re in it s some times lighter and sometimes denser but there s always the vague sense of being in a virgin forest Here the pepper plants climb the trees which is why their bark needs to be as rough as possible After flowering long panicles with sin gle seeded stone fruits these go on to become pepper corns form amongst the large oval pepper leaves The first harvest takes place after three to four years The harvest is done by hand twice a year once from January until February and once from June until August The picker often climbs up high on unusual ladders for example indi vidual fat bamboo canes whose leaves have been beaten back so that foot wide stem remains stay in place as rungs Since the pepper fruits don t all mature at the same time on the panicles a selection is already made at harvest time The fruits must be a deep yellowy green colour Many smallholders use their own sun drying surfaces for black pepper If they don t have any they have their fresh pepper picked up by Bio Foods this is the company that launched the association of smallholders and supports them when it comes to processing and marketing White pepper which has a milder taste is also produced in the Bio Foods processing plants The base fruit is the same as for black pepper but the prepara tion involves considerably more work This is because only the seeds of the pepper fruits become white pepper The pulp must first be removed as part of a pro cess lasting several days before the corns can be dried Bio Foods founder Dr Sarath Rana weera is not just revered by Sri Lan ka s smallholders His company Bio Foods founded in 1993 specialises in high grade Demeter quality spic es Spices like our pepper for exam ple are farmed according to tradition al methods This means smaller quan tities at harvest time but the quality is beyond compare In order to protect the smallholders from financial difficulties Dr Ranaweera ad vocates mixed cultivation as described earlier if the pep per harvest is disappoint ing the farmer in question can still fall back on his her cloves cinnamon and so on But it s not just its particular quality that makes Bio Foods the perfect business partner for Lebensbaum It s also a company that lives and breathes responsibility to wards nature and people It was a de sire to promote traditional farming that led Ranaweera to found the Small Or ganic Farmers Association SOFA in 1997 With the help of his compa ny he gave considerable initial aid to associations of organic smallhold ers Around 2 500 farmers have since joined SOFA and work according to or ganic or even Demeter principles It s a growing trend Sri Lankan pepper aromatic and spicy

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