Sunday, 25 March 2012

Canadian Demand, Help For Nepal, Guyanese Ginger & Price Extremes

What do you do when you can't get the price you need for your newly harvested ginger? If you live in the village of Wooling in Bhutan, you put it back in the ground again. According to Kuensel Online, farmers have found that the current wholesale price is less than half that of a year ago and is now lower than the cost of the initial 'seed' stock. So, rather than accept a loss, the farmers are storing their crops in large pits in the ground and waiting until the price rises to an acceptable level. Bhutan is totally dependent upon India for its ginger exports although insignificant quantities have been exported occasionally to Bangladesh and Thailand. The last available figures show that India imported 1108 tonnes of Bhutanese ginger in 2010. The International Trade Centre has identified ginger as an export sector with high potential.

Demand for ginger and garlic in Quebec and Ontario increased by 200% last year according to one of Canada's leading garlic importers. The Packer reported that the Montreal-based company CDS imports its ginger and garlic from Ecuador to satisfy the health-conscious and those with a taste for ethnic dishes. reported that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has taken the next step in its promotion of ginger from Nepal. The WTO selected Nepal as part of the Trading Stories Project which is designed to help the least developed countries. A WTO team has arrived in the country to film ginger production. The article also mentioned that the Nepalese government will implement a ginger programme over the next two-three years. About 2,000 small ginger farmers will be provided with improved 'seed' stock and a new processing plant.

New Chapter, a major US-based provider of organic and natural food supplements, has been acquired by the multi-national Procter & Gamble. This will enable New Chapter's many ginger products to be brought to the attention of a wider audience.

The Australian ginger harvest is imminent. Watch this space. In the meantime, here is a YouTube video of a ginger harvest.

Let me introduce a new addition to our ever-expanding list of ginger growing countries - Guyana. Although not a major producer, Guyana does grow enough to export principally to Barbados but also to Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname and the Dutch Antilles (all small-scale producers themselves). Ginger is grown in the Barima-Waini region (also known as Region One) in the north west of the country. This is an area which is subject to a long-running territorial dispute between Guyana and Venezuela.

They say that Guyanese ginger beer is a popular drink. This is quite understandable as we all know that ginger beer is a popular drink anywhere, and rightly so.

Promasidor Nigeria Ltd, part of the Africa-wide Promasidor group, has announced that it will launch a ginger-flavoured tea towards the end of March. According to MarketWorld, this tea will be one of two new flavours "being introduced to offer consumers different choices and also add fun, excitement and refreshment to tea consumption".

We've mentioned before that Naitasiri province is a major ginger growing area in Fiji. Prospective ginger farmers last week received encouraging news on fijilive when it reported a statement from Fiji's prime minister that Naitasiri ginger farmers are expected to earn $7 million by next year. To put this into perspective, last year ginger farmers earned $3.5 million.

The Taiwanese government has taken the unusual step of introducing measures to increase the price of domestically grown ginger to protect farmers, according to Focus Taiwan. Following last year's good prices farmers have increased production this year. Now there is a glut of ginger which has led, naturally, to a drop in the price. The government will now activate a procurement mechanism aimed, presumably, at ensuring a minimum price. It will also assist in marketing the crop in both domestic and foreign markets.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

New Season, Squatters Harvest & Ginger Discoveries

Following the recent initiative by the Jamaican government to give a boost to the agriculture sector in general and the ginger sector in particular, the Jamaica Information Service has reported that an integral part of the initiative will be for farmers to register for a praedial larceny programme. My first question after reading the report was 'what is praedial larceny?'. Praedial larceny is the theft of agricultural produce or livestock from a farm. To combat this type of crime the police will join forces with the ministry, judiciary and farmers.

Bangladeshi farmers are only a week away from planting a newish variety of ginger. BARI Ada-1 (developed by the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute) is due to be planted from the last week of March to the last week of April. This variety is said to be suitable for cultivation anywhere within the country which must be a big selling point. When I read through the specification sheet for this particular variety, I was surprised to see that one of the recommended sources of fertiliser is cow dung. It's nice to see that something natural is being used.

The Gympie Times in Australia carried a story about a topic which we've heard before and I'm sure we will hear again. A dairy farmer from Kia Ora (a small town near Gympie) has decided to sell his cattle because he cannot command a satisfactory price from the supermarkets. He said that he is being paid less from the supermarkets than the cost of production. This is becoming a regular occurrence here in the UK as well. But whereas some farmers in this situation sell up and seek alternative employment, this particular farmer is switching to ginger cultivation. He is in an ideal location in the ginger-growing heartland of South East Queensland and is only 41 miles from Buderim, Australia's largest ginger processing company. I wish him well.

Last November I wrote about a Fijian government scheme to give squatters the opportunity to become ginger farmers. Well, The Jet has reported that a community of 25 ex-squatters in Lomaivuna has started harvesting its first ginger crop with an estimated value of over $30,000. One acre of the harvest will be used for next season's 'seed' stock. The Fijian Local Government minister is now calling for more squatters to join the scheme.

VietnamNet Bridge reported that a team of Vietnamese and international scientists have discovered two new ginger genera in central Vietnam. The plants have been named Newmania serpens N. S. Lý & Skornick and Newmania orthostachys N. S. Lý & Skornick. My feeling is that they are ornamental rather than edible. According to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) the discovery of a new plant genus is unusual whereas the discovery of a new plant species is far more common. The NMNH reported ten years ago about the discovery of a new ginger genus, Smithatris supraneeana, in Thailand.

Back to Jamaica again and a speech given by Roger Clark, the agriculture minister. The government is putting a lot of effort into restoring the Jamaican ginger industry to its former glory and with ginger among the fastest growing spices in international trade, now is the time to do it. Clark said that over the last ten years global ginger imports have increased from 276,000 tonnes to 423,000 tonnes with Jamaica's contribution estimated to be less than four percent. Although domestic production is now increasing, the country is only able to supply 10% of its direct international orders. Jamaican ginger is being grown specifically for niche markets where its high quality can command a premium. The national short-term production target of 21,000 tonnes will require 3,000 acres at an improved target yield of 7 tonnes per acre. One target set for this year is the production of 589 tonnes of disease-free 'seed' stock for open-field cultivation next year. Another target is to allocate 10 acres of covered cultivation which, I imagine, is to protect against the vagaries of the weather.

The Deccan Herald had an interesting feature on how ginger cultivation has changed land-use patterns in the Indian state of Karnataka. Local farmers in the Banavasi region, known in the past for its deep-water paddy fields, switched to ginger after discovering the vast profits to be made when ginger farmers from the neighbouring state of Kerala started renting farmland. Ginger cultivation is very capital intensive as it requires considerable quantities of fertilisers and pesticides to achieve high yields. In this region land had to be drained which must have been expensive.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Making Ginger Beer, Memory Aid, Anti-Ageing & Seed Stock

It's very rare to find in the press details of the production process of a commercial ginger beer. So I was pleased to read a surprisingly detailed account in the Democrat and Chronicle of how the Ithaca Beer Company in New York State makes its non-alcoholic ginger beer. It was interesting to discover that the beer is made in small batches of about 775 gallons with each batch containing 40 pounds of fresh ginger root. The addition of pure cane sugar and lemon juice (widely accepted as essential ingredients) finishes off a ginger beer which only takes 45-60 minutes to produce.

Spotted this unusual cocktail last week - Shaky Pete's Ginger Brew. This drink can be found in Hawksmoor restaurants in London and is made from gin, homemade ginger syrup, lemon juice and London Pride, a premium ale from the Fuller's brewery.

I was reading a research paper from Thailand which has shown that ginger is a potential cognitive enhancer for healthy, middle-aged women. It appears that the research was prompted by the development of cognitive enhancers from plants possessing antioxidant properties. Although researchers at Khon Kaen University showed the benefit of ginger on the participants, I'm not convinced about why middle-aged women were identified as needing assistance. Apparently, "middle-aged women performed poorly in various areas of cognitive function including attention, calculation and immediate recall (assessed using Minimental state examination (MMSE))". I also found a similar research paper by the same team entitled 'Ginger Supplementation Enhances Working Memory of the Post-Menopause Women'.

Arabian folklore holds that ginger can improve memory. I really must remember to eat and drink more ginger.

Isthmus had a passing reference last week to an interesting beer planned for release next month. Vintage Brewing Company of Madison, Wisconsin, will be producing a spiced, strong golden ale called Jinja Ninja. According to the article it is sure to have spicy ginger qualities. The name of the beer sounded familiar and then I remembered. Jinja Ninja is also an award-winning English bottled beer from the Peerless Brewing Company which is brewed with root ginger, chillies and lemons. It is also an alcoholic boutique ginger beer from Sydney.

The Times of India carried an article on how to fight the health problems brought on by the change from winter to summer (whatever happened to spring?). Apparently there is an increase in colds and coughs caused by the extremes of day and night temperatures, viral infections and allergens. The article stated that consumption of ginger and garlic should be increased to build a strong immune system. I can manage that.

The Times of India has also published its list of the top six anti-ageing foods and it includes ginger. Actually, it includes the dynamic duo again - ginger and garlic. The article says that ginger helps to rejuvenate cells and prevent damage.

A Nigerian business consultancy blog informed me that about 92 percent of Nigerian ginger production is actually exported. It also told me that Kaduna, Nasarawa, Benue, Niger and Gombe are Nigeria's ginger-growing states. And if I've read the blog correctly, it seems that the UK is the biggest importer of Nigerian (?) ginger in the EU, closely followed by the Netherlands and a long way ahead of Germany and France.

Last November I wrote about the sad cases of suicide amongst ginger farmers in the Indian state of Kerala. I thought that we had seen the end of this but last week The Hindu reported two new cases. One farmer in Wayanad was unable to repy his loans after wild animals destroyed his crops. The other farmer is said to have found it difficult to repay his debt following a sharp fall in the price of ginger. Let's hope that this is not the start of another spate.

In my last post I wrote about the Jamaican government's plan to match non-cash public assets with private companies finance. The Gleaner has now reported that two Jamaican companies, Salada Foods and P.A. Benjamin Manufacturing, have partnered with the agriculture ministry in a project to provide ginger and turmeric 'seed' stock. The project will be based at the government's Orange River Research Station. The seed stock will be grown under cover for eventual open field cultivation. For both companies, using Jamaican ginger will be a unique selling point.

The King’s Ginger, a ginger liqueur from Berry Bros & Rudd, is now available in Australia from this month. Australians will now be able to enjoy a drink which I first tasted and praised over a year ago.

The Hindu Business Line reported that shipments of Indian ginger have exceeded the government’s target for the first nine months of the current fiscal year. The target for the period was 10,000 tonnes but the country actually shipped 12,150 tonnes. Although the current price is double that of a year earlier, it is still $500 a tonne below the international price.

The same article also mentioned that cultivation of the internationally-renowned Cochin ginger is being reduced because of a drop in the price. This is surprising as Cochin ginger normally commands a premium which reflects its status. Its high quality and fibreless content makes it ideal for drying. I believe that there will always be a market for Cochin ginger so if the remaining farmers can stick with it, basic economics will dictate that the price and premium will eventually rise again.

Referring to the same information-packed article again, Kerala is home to a high oil content ginger commonly known as 'Ellakalan'. But because the extraction units in the state have now switched to cheaper low oil content varieties from Nigeria and Ethiopia, cultivation of Ellakalan has gradually disappeared.

The Financial Express reported that Indian ginger prices are likely to come under further pressure from cheaper Nigerian and Ethiopian imports. It also said that domestic prices will remain low because of record production, particularly in the south of the country. Traders believe that ginger consumption in the north will decline as the weather becomes hotter. Strange considering that in the West a chilled ginger drink is regarded as an ideal refreshment during the summer. Perhaps an enterprising ginger farmer in Kerala or Karnataka could produce a range of ginger-based soft drinks such as ginger and lime, and ginger and pineapple.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Rainforest Ginger, US Baby Ginger, Ginger Wine Ban & Tongling Ginger

Ginger is grown in many parts of the world and most of you will be familiar with the major players such as India, China and Nigeria, and even some of the minor players like Jamaica and Australia. But I can't imagine that many of you will be familiar with ginger from the Amazon Rainforest. To be more precise, ginger from the Peruvian, Ecuadorian and Brazilian rainforests. Ginger thrives in the rainforest understory which provides the ideal growing conditions of being very hot and very damp.

Following the recent report of neurology professor Pat McGeer eating ginger every day to prevent the possible onset of Alzheimer's Disease (see last post), the Vancouver Sun blog has since reported that McGeer buys crystallised (candied) ginger and that he nibbles it whilst drinking coffee.

A ginger production workshop was held last Wednesday in Siler City, North Carolina. It was aimed at first-time growers considering ginger as a speciality crop. Ginger farming on the east coast of the USA seems to be gaining ground with crops already being cultivated in North Carolina, Virginia and Maine using polytunnels. Crops here are normally harvested when immature i.e. 'baby' ginger. Baby ginger has a mild flavour and is quite aromatic. The Washington Post last year described baby ginger as tickling your palate instead of assaulting it.

Interestingly, many ginger farms in the US are advised by East Branch Ginger, a supplier of ginger 'seed' from Pittsboro, North Carolina. The company also deal with two other members of the ginger family, turmeric and galangal. At the time of writing, East Branch Ginger has sold out of all its products for the 2012 season.

The price of ginger in Pakistan went up by five percent during February 2012 according to the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN). Although FAFEN was originally set up to monitor Pakistan's political process, it now reports on many other aspects of society.

Australia's reported the unusual news that cheap alcohol will be banned in Alice Springs for three days because an Australian rules football game will stretch police resources. What I think is unusual is that the ban applies to cask wine and fortified wines like port and green ginger wine. Here in the UK it is cheap supermarket lager that would be the problem.

And now this blog makes its first visit to Barbados, courtesy of The Barbados Advocate. It reported a speech given by Keeley Holder, an agriculture specialist and both founder and managing director of Produce Growers Limited, who has called for Barbados to expand its agriculture sector by identifying and then concentrating on niche export markets. She believes that niche markets can command premium prices. One possible market which has been identified is the interest from the United Kingdom for Barbadian ginger. Ginger has been grown in Barbados since the early English colonial days in the 1640s but its cultivation now needs to be expanded substantially as the country currently is a net importer of the crop.

A Fijian government blog reported that the government is encouraging more farmers in the Naitasiri province to move into ginger cultivation because of its high earnings potential. Reading between the lines in this blog and other sources, my understanding is that this year's ginger export commitments cannot be met by the predicted harvest. And to think that a year ago ginger farmers were struggling to find buyers for their crop. I hope that Fiji is just experiencing a temporary mismatch in the quantities growers can grow and exporters can sell.

In Fiji immature ginger is harvested from December to March and mature ginger is harvested from April to August.

In his continuing effort to expand ginger and other agricultural products, Roger Clarke, the Jamaican agriculture minister, has said that the government is prepared to allocate non-cash public assets if private companies supply the finance to invest in agriculture. Go-Jamaica reported that the non-cash assets would include land, buildings, human resources and support. Clarke's speech also mentioned that Jamaican ginger has been scientifically proven to be of a superior quality in terms of flavour and aroma. Jamaica should use this evidence to improve its current production level of only meeting ten percent of export orders.

The Gleaner from Jamaica had encouraging news stating that ginger production increased by 63 percent from 2008 to 2010. It also mentioned that cultivation acreage increased by 40 percent and the yield increased by 14 percent from 2.8 tonnes per hectare to 3.2 tonnes per hectare.

A few months ago I mentioned the story of how farmers in the Khotang district of Nepal were finding it difficult to either sell their ginger or diversify into ginger because of the lack of an adequate road network to send their produce to market. The Himalayan Times has now reported that farmers with access to a road network have been attracted to commercial ginger farming. It didn't say whether the farmers already had land close to a road or whether the farmers had moved closer to a road or, indeed, whether new roads have recently been built. But it does go to show that given a decent transport infrastructure businesses will flourish.

Another story last week from Khotang, this time in FN News Network. An enterprising farmer has gone one step further by adding value to his village's ginger output - he is converting it to juice. The ginger juice is selling well in the local market and providing an income for both the juice maker and the ginger farmers. Ginger juice is used in making ginger tea and also as an expectorant. If old ginger is used then the juice is potent enough to be used in spicy dishes. By the way, old ginger is ginger which is harvested after nine months.

A couple of statistics about Nepalese ginger. The first is that 60,000 families are involved in the ginger industry. The second is that 80% of ginger is exported to India. That's a lot of people dependent upon just one market.

I attempted last week to read a scientific research report called "Chemical Constituents and Their Bioactivities of 'Tongling White Ginger' (Zingiber officinale)" by the Kunming Institute of Botany at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Tongling white ginger enjoys the accolade of being one of the finest gingers in China because of its thin white peel, tender flesh, rich juice and flavour. But apart from the essential oil, the chemical profile of this particular variety had not been examined in detail before. So a team conducted a study on an ethanol extract of the ginger and isolated 42 compounds of which four were previously unknown. If you want to read more about it be prepared to have to pay for full access to the research paper. I refused and probably found out more by a general Google search on "Tongling White Ginger".

Tongling, a city in southern Anhui Province, is known as the City of Eight Treasures. These treasures are, I believe, ginger, Paeonia ostii (a hardy shrub from the peony family), gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and garlic. Another source features hemp and sulphur instead of Paeonia ostii and garlic. As long as the list contains ginger, I'm happy.