Sunday, 29 May 2011

Australian Ginger Future, Squatters, Increasing Production and Antimicrobial Properties

The Fijian government is taking a novel approach to the problem of squatters. The Jet community newspaper has reported that twenty one families with farming backgrounds have been selected to take part in a pilot programme. The government has set aside 30 acres between the families and will provide each with a home. The families will also be provided with seeds for crops such as ginger, given the appropriate training and encouraged to sell the resulting harvest at local markets. I wish the scheme well.

Last week I read how two neighbouring regions are experiencing diametrically opposite views about the ginger industry. First, the Sunshine Coast Daily reported that farmers in the coastal region are seriously considering giving up growing ginger following the second successive poor harvest caused by the dreaded pythium rot disease. And then, on the same day, The Gympie Times reported that the Gympie region, an area immediately to the north of the Sunshine Coast, is the ideal location for growing ginger. To emphasise the point, Gympie was chosen to host last week's inaugural conference of the Australian Ginger Industry Association.

Participants met at last week's Australian Ginger Industry Association conference to discuss a proposed five-year strategic plan to develop the industry. At the moment I don't have any more information about the conference but when I do I will let you know.

The Sri Lankan government is offering ginger farmers subsidised fertiliser in an effort to become self-sufficient in the crop. The country is in a similar situation to India in that it has a thriving export market coupled with increasing demand from the home market. This increase in domestic demand seems to be driven by the popularity of ayurvedic medicine which has forced the Department of Ayurveda to import ginger. This has a consequent effect on the country's balance of payments so it makes sense to increase production.

Browsing through the Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins including Tropical Diseases the other day (I do like to vary my reading material occasionally) I found the results of a Brazilian study into the antimicrobial activities of certain essential oils and propolis. To be honest, I did rather regret varying my reading material so much that day. It was one of those documents that had me posing questions such as what does this mean, what does that mean, and have I already looked up the meaning of this word. Anyway, the conclusion of the report, I think, was that ginger essential oil with propolis (a resinous substance that honey bees collect from some plants) does have an observable effect on microorganisms such Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. If you would like to read the report of the study and let me know what it means, here is the link.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Speciality Crop, Ginger Levy, Adding Value and Returning Home

Farm World reported last week that federal funds are available for farmers who wish to grow ginger as a speciality crop in Indiana, USA. My knowledge of US geography is fairly basic but I would have thought that the state was too far north to be capable of producing ginger on an economically viable scale. Trusty Wikipedia tells me that the climate is humid continental which means that the summers are warm to hot and often humid. Acceptable at a push but the growing season is only up to 185 days. Ginger typically requires nine months but six months will do if you want to harvest young, immature rhizomes. So I'm a little puzzled by this. Unless, of course, the ginger is grown indoors!

A hospital in Jamshedpur in India has invited tenders for the supply of ginger for its diet department. I'm used to reading about hugely expensive tenders for IT systems and construction projects but there must be a low end to any scale. With India being the world's largest producer of ginger, this must be the most cost-effective way to find an acceptable supplier.

Time is running out for those of you who have not yet applied for a position on the Ginger Industry Research and Development Advisory Committee. This new body is run by the Australian government's Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) and will consist of a small group of people with a range of skills and experience covering the production, research, and value-adding sectors of the ginger industry. The closing date for applications is tomorrow.

Still with the RIRDC, the Australian government has introduced a 0.5 per cent levy on the sale price of fresh ginger, seed ginger and processing ginger that is produced in Australia and sold or processed in Australia. The levy, introduced on 1st April 2011, will provide funding for ginger research and development conducted by the RIRDC.

It is well known in the ginger industry that selling raw ginger generates a lower economic return than processed ginger. With this in mind, the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) in the Nigerian state of Imo is collaborating with the Mbaitoli Ginger Growers Association to increase the value of the crops by converting the raw ginger into ground ginger. The RMRDC has now awarded contracts to two local engineering companies to create the machinery for slicing, drying and grinding the raw ginger. It is planned that the ground ginger, which has a considerably longer shelf life than raw ginger, will be used in the domestic food and drink industry and also exported.

The Malnad region of Karnataka state in southern India has been known for its coffee, green chillies and rice. But soon, according to the Deccan Herald, it will also be known for its ginger. The financial returns from growing ginger have now become so attractive that not only are farmers switching crops but young men who were previously driven away to the cities in search of work are now returning home to start a new career in ginger farming.

Whilst prices are looking good in parts of India, the price of ginger in neighbouring Bhutan has more than halved compared to a year ago. For many Bhutanese farmers, ginger is their only source of income. The farmers say that the prices are set by the buyers who all come from India. I can't help but wonder whether these buyers are indulging in a spot of speculating; buying cheaply in Bhutan from farmers with no other established means to market and storing the ginger whilst the price in India rises. As agriculture provides employment for 80 per cent of the population, is it not time for Bhutan to start expanding and widening its export markets and thereby reduce its reliance on a small group of international traders.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Cattle Feed, Graffiti, Fungicide and Hangovers

Those of you with a taste for ginger will be used to reading about ginger food and drink. News of the latest dessert or cake or alcoholic ginger beer may well have you licking you lips in anticipation. So what must it be like for our animal friends? I only ask as I've just read in the Farmers Guardian about a beef finishing business in East Yorkshire in England. Here, farmer John Gatenby feeds his cattle on a range of food manufacturing by-products including ginger syrup. I wonder if it affects the taste of the meat? And does it make the meat tender? Ginger is well known as a meat tenderizer but that is at the preparation and cooking stages. I'd love to try some.

The Lo-Down, the community website for Manhattan's Lower East Side, reported on the unusual form of advertising adopted by Bruce Cost's Fresh Ginger, Ginger Ale. The drinks company created a fantastic graffiti mural on the outside walls of a corner building. Can't see this style of advertising happening here in the UK. Pity really.

It looks like Australian ginger growers will have to change their planting programme. Currently, ginger 'seed' is treated with carbendazim, a benzimidazole fungicide, before planting to protect against soft rot and to induce early sprouting. Now the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) has proposed the withdrawal of carbendazim use for various agricultural products including ginger seed pieces. Research by APVMA has shown that use of the fungicide may pose a risk to consumers and farm workers. So what can the farmers use in its place? Apparently imazalil has been found to be an effective replacement. I know, it means nothing to me either.

We've mentioned a couple of times on All Things Ginger that drinking a ginger tea or infusion can be helpful in reducing the effects of a hangover. It is said to combat nausea and settle the stomach. But what happens if the hangover has been caused by overindulging in an alcoholic ginger beer (very popular here in the UK), a ginger wine or a spirit with a natural ginger mixer? My hangover days have long since gone so I shall leave it to someone else to test.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Consumer Testing, Convict Transportation, Health Claims and Germplasm

When you buy fresh produce it is not unusual to visually inspect, feel and smell the items before purchasing. What you are doing is using your senses or, to use the scientific term, testing organoleptically. Researchers from McGill University in Canada wanted to find a way of drying ginger for a longer shelf life whilst retaining an acceptable surface colour and aroma. They concluded that the most energy efficient way to dry ginger was to microwave at 60 degrees C and this had the additional benefit of minimal aroma loss.

On the 6th December 1738, James Winstanly went on trial at the Old Bailey charged with stealing 15lb of white ginger (peeled and dried Jamaica ginger) from the home of Joseph Broad. He was found guilty of Theft From A Specified Place and sentenced to transportation. Until 1776 transportation was to America so it is quite likely that Winstanly was sent to either Maryland or Virginia.

In late April the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a letter warning Diaspora Tea & Herb Company that the way that their Rishi Tea was being advertised on the company website implied that the teas had medicinal properties. For a product to have medical benefits it must be classed as a drug and be licensed by the FDA. The FDA ruling covered a number of teas including organic botanical ginger. The website stated that "[G]inger is used in food and drinks as a preventive medicine against colds [and] flus.” The FDA response was "The therapeutic claims on your website establish that these products are drugs because they are intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease." The ruling also stated that Diaspora Tea & Herb must review its website and make the necessary changes. The All Things Ginger website takes great care to ensure that no unauthorised claims are made to the medicinal efficacy of consuming ginger.

Frequently when researching ginger I come across the word germplasm. As it's not a word I use in everyday conversation and didn't know what it meant anyway, I decided to satisfy my curiosity. According to Wikipedia "A germplasm is a collection of genetic resources for an organism. For plants, the germplasm may be stored as a seed collection or, for trees, in a nursery." So for ginger we must be talking about rhizomes and tissue samples. Did you know that one of the world's largest collections of ginger germplasm is held at the Germplasm Conservatory of the Indian Institute of Spices Research. If you want to get into ginger farming, this is the place to go.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Elephant Attacks, High Quality Fijian And Leasing Land For Ginger

Demand for Fijian ginger is on the increase according to the Fijian government. The ginger has a unique taste and, if harvested whilst relatively immature, is low in fibre. But these sought-after characteristics come at a price for the consumer and it is this high price which is making it difficult for Fiji to compete with cheaper Asian produce from countries like China. This sounds like a contradiction; on the one hand, increasing demand for the ginger, but on the other hand, the ginger is too expensive. So how is Fiji planning to reconcile this inconsistency? Well, the Fijian government response has been to advise exporters to focus more on the US and European markets (where Fijian ginger is already well received) and increase exports by 10% a year for the next three years. The increased demand will be met by government-funded workshops and training for existing and, crucially, new farmers.

Ginger farmers in the Napoklu district of Karnataka in India are keeping their fingers crossed. As they plant this year's ginger 'seed', the farmers will be remembering last year when it rained continuously and the rhizomes destined for harvest began to germinate in the soil. And as you can appreciate, germinating ginger does not have a market.

Elsewhere in Karnataka, The Hindu reported that many farmers are leasing their land to ginger farmers. The landowners have found that they would prefer a guaranteed income from a tenant farmer rather than take on the risk of growing crops themselves. Interestingly, some of these ginger farmers have come from the neighbouring state of Kerala, a state known internationally for producing high quality ginger.

Another report last week of an elephant attack in India. Two wild elephants entered a village and damaged a ginger farm. Fortunately no one was injured. These attacks seem to be occurring far more frequently in recent years. It is not unknown for attacks to result in human fatalities. I'm sure that I've read somewhere that man is to blame for the attacks. Elephants prefer a partially forested environment. Farmers have been clearing these forests and elephant corridors to create land for crops. This has resulted in elephants leaving their shrinking forest habitats in search of food and coming into contact with humans. It is difficult to know what to do. Some state governments are replanting on previously cleared land but I can't imagine that many farmers will volunteer to relinquish their farms.