Sunday, 26 June 2011

Instant Salabat, Cocktails, Kharif Crops & Fruit Flies

Today (Sunday) will be the last day of this year's Agraryo Trade Fair in Mandaluyong City in the Philippines. I mention this because the fair will feature the famous (well, in the Philippines at least) Badiangan Instant Salabat or Ginger Brew. The tea is a product of the Badiangan Ginger Planters and Producers Co-operative (BGPPC), an organisation representing ginger farmers from seven districts. BGPPC was formed in 1998 to assist ginger farmers who had suffered when their sole export market (Japan) collapsed following the dishonest dealings of some farmers and traders who sold ginger rhizomes mixed with ginger-liked products. Inevitably it will take time and patience to recover from a tarnished image.

I never cease to be amazed at the number of cocktails from around the world which contain ginger. So it is not surprising to find that many of these cocktails come from the world's largest producer of ginger - India. The Mumbai Boss reported that a restaurant in the city (The Elbo Room) now serves two ginger-based drinks. The Nashik Mule is made from Triple Sec, white wine, curry leaves and ginger. Jamaicano is made from shiraz, orange juice, pineapple juice and ginger ale. Note that both drinks have the ever-popular ginger and orange combination in common.

The results of a study into a number of ginger specimens with varying genetic characteristics has just been published. The research, titled Variability of Ginger (Zingiber officinale Rosc.) Accessions for Morphological and Some Quality Traits in Ethiopia, was led by Jimma University. The report states that the average ginger yield is "very low" at 15.87 tonnes/ha. I didn't think that figure was too bad as the world average two years ago was just over 2.5 t/ha. But Ethiopian scientists believe that they can do better. The point of the experiment was not to find a "super" ginger variety ( which would have been known already) but to uncover sought-after traits across a number of varieties. Various characteristics were measured and certain readings proved to be of significant interest such as the speed of growth through to maturity, the rhizome yield, oil content and the marked differences between Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian stock.

Farmers in Pakistan are becoming concerned as the cost of fertiliser has started to rise steeply just before the start of the Kharif crops planting season. Kharif crops are crops (including ginger) which are sown in the rainy season in India and Pakistan. The fertiliser producers are claiming that production is being hampered by the lack of a reliable gas supply and that this has resulted in a fertiliser shortage.

Scientists at the Queensland University of Technology are facing a race against time to find an environmentally acceptable way of controlling the fruit fly before existing chemical methods are restricted or possibly banned. The fruit fly is proving to be a major pest for fruit and vegetable growers in tropical and subtropical Australia. A promising method under investigation is to lure male fruit flies with ginger essence (zingerone) and then kill them with a small amount of insecticide placed in the trap. To be honest, it is going to prove very difficult to eradicate the fruit fly without employing insecticides but if they must be used then their use in a limited and controlled environment must be the way to go.

Have a look at this ginger ale taste test, US-style.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Career Change, More Contamination, Migraine & Irrigation Project

Many people dream of changing their career but few actually do it. So it was pleasing to read of Reuben Canada, a Philadelphia-based patent attorney, who is making a name for himself in the world of ginger. He started in his kitchen by making a ginger-infused syrup to add to vodka. This evolved into a ginger beer type drink called Jin-Ja which contains ginger, cayenne pepper, green tea, lemon juice and mint. Apparently it can be drunk both neat and as a mixer. Canada's Jin-Ja business has proved so successful that he now employs 13 staff. I really admire people who set themselves a challenge and strive for it. As the maxim goes "You only live once".

Following the recent news (see 5th June 2011 post)that ginger product exports from Taiwan are being monitored for DEHP contamination, the Taiwanese themselves have now discovered ginger powder imported from China contaminated with DIBP. DIBP is a plasticiser and it was recently discovered in a consignment of more than 80,000 ginger powder nutrition capsules in Taichung City. What puzzles me is that these plasticisers are manufactured, some undergoing complex processing, at what must be a not inconsiderable expense. Surely it must be easier, safer and cheaper to sell ginger unadulterated.

Reuters reported the preliminary results of a study into the use of feverfew and ginger for migraine. Researchers at the Headache Care Centre in Springfield, Missouri gave a group of volunteers a feverfew and ginger preparation whilst a control group was given a placebo. Initial indications were that the feverfew and ginger preparation had a noticeable effect in reducing pain but as the survey sample size was too small the results cannot be considered conclusive. Fortunately I've never suffered from migraine but I know people who do and so I hope that this treatment turns out to be a success.

How do you increase your agricultural production in an Indian drought zone? How do you harvest ginger out of season following a poor monsoon? You simply install irrigation. But not just any old irrigation system. The India Tribune has reported that Gujarat and its neighbouring states are reaping the benefits of the Sardar Sarovar project, first conceived in the 1940s by Nehru, whereby a huge dam and reservoir feed an extensive network of canals and sub-canals. It's hard to believe that it has taken so long to build but I suppose that a project of this scale must be extremely expensive for any country or donor agency to undertake.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Burmese Ginger, Trade Mission, Licensed Products & Wild Boar

This year's Burmese ginger crop is proving so popular with international buyers that traders are struggling to meet demand. The conditions which led to a poor harvest last December have created a spiciness and fragrance which is attracting the attention of Indian and German buyers. Ginger (known locally as gyin) is not a major export commodity in Burma and demand is typically irregular. The traditional export markets are Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore and China.

Last month a trade mission from the Dominican Republic visited France to promote the export of a range of agricultural products including ginger. The mission was important for the Dominicans as agriculture is second in their list of export earning sectors behind mining. Like many other countries in the Caribbean, ginger has been grown for quite a few years. Until the export market was created, ginger was produced for domestic consumption. The locals even have a special Christmas drink made with ginger and cinnamon.

In the UK, the 1st of May saw the introduction of the EU Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD). This directive requires that herbal products can only be sold if they have been registered and licensed by an appropriate agency. This is causing distress to many Indian and Chinese manufacturers as registration can cost in excess of £40,000 for each individual product. But it appears that makers of many herbal products (including ginger) can avoid the cost of registration if the products are labelled and sold as food supplements without any medicinal benefit claims.

Last month we mentioned the story of the elephant attacks on Indian ginger farms. Last week The Telegraph in Calcutta reported that farmers in Darjeeling, cultivating a range of crops including ginger, have been suffering from attacks by wild boar. These wild boar are destroying whole crops by searching for tubers with their snouts. They have also be known to attack and kill humans. Wild boar are distributed widely and live in large family groups. The fact that they breed rapidly means that once in your area they can be difficult to remove. So the farmers response has been to set aside land for a crop which the wild boar will not touch. And this crop is, unsurprisingly, tea. Darjeeling, famous the world over for its black tea, still has room for more growers. This extra tea, certified as organic, will be sold to a local tea garden.

I've just been reading a short report from two years ago by Dr Y C Zala of Anand Agricultural University in India. The report, Ginger cultivation: Capital intensive but profitable, contains a number of interesting statistics but what I found of most interest were the productivity figures. Two years ago the world's average for ginger production was 2,546 kg/ha. India was higher at 3,417 kg/ha but the USA (I think that means Hawaii really) came top with an incredible 51,925 kg/ha. It's just as well that US acreage is small-scale, relatively speaking.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

DEHP Contamination, English Ginger, Tariffs and Bangladeshi Ginger

The E.coli outbreak centred in Germany is not the only food contamination alert making the news this week. Although not on the same scale, the US Food and Drug Administration is monitoring certain food products, including ginger clam tablets, imported from Taiwan. These products, believed to have come from over 180 manufacturers, contain DEHP, a chemical used as a plasticiser in the medical equipment industry. DEHP has been used before in beverages as a clouding agent to give the product, such as a fruit juice, a cloudy and therefore more natural appearance. Other countries known to be affected include the Philippines, Vietnam and Hong Kong. This reminds me of the Prohibition era in 1920s and 1930s America when a different plasticiser was added to Jake, a Jamaican ginger extract.

A joint venture between Sharp’s Brewery and the Eden Project has resulted in a beer containing English ginger. Yes, you did read that correctly. English ginger! Launched at the beginning of June, Honey Gold is a summer seasonal golden beer brewed with five varieties of hops, honey and spices including ginger which has been grown at the Eden Project. I don't think that the Indians and the Chinese need lose any sleep over this new addition to the list of ginger producing countries. Both the brewery and the Eden Project are based in Cornwall in south west England.

Last week I wrote about Fijian government's programme for resettling squatters. The Fiji Times has reported that the 20 families, with an estimated population of 100 between them, should be producing $90,000 of ginger after just five months.

I read something the other day and now I can't remember the link to it. I think it was all about encouraging women farmers to diversify into speciality crops like ginger. The talk was held under the auspices of the Pennsylvania Women's Agricultural Network at Penn State University. I'm sure that it mentioned that the ginger would have to be grown in polytunnels. Recently I mentioned that grants are available for growing ginger in Indiana. It is interesting how ginger cultivation is moving away from the tropics.

A press release from the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) was released recently detailing the proceedings of the first Provincial Farmers and Fisherfolk Congress in Samar Province. This congress was a significant event as fishing and farming are the principal economic activities in Samar. Of particular interest to me was the call from the provincial governor to consider moving into ginger farming. The governor said that there was a big market for this crop and that a foreign business partner was ready to purchase 200 tons of ginger per month. Encouragement indeed! The main markets for Filipino ginger are the UK, Germany, Japan and Hong Kong.

Last week I reported that the Sri Lankan government is offering subsidies to enable the country to become self-sufficient in ginger. The government is now ready to impose tariff barriers to encourage and protect ginger production. Presumably the government will not be too concerned about tit for tat tariffs on their ginger exports as the aim is to reduce imports and not increase exports.

Bangladesh announced that this year's prospective ginger yield in Nilphamari district is looking fairly good. This district produces more than 50% of the country's total ginger output. This year's cultivation is slightly lower than last year and government sources are concerned that future cultivation will be reduced even further because virus-free seed is not available. Maybe this is an area which should be a focus for foreign aid.