Thursday, 19 November 2009

Pomegranates provenance mystery

I bought these from Sainsbury’s, a fresh pomegranate and some seeds packaged in plastic with a little plastic spoon. There was no country of origin label on the fresh version, not on the labels stuck on the individual fruit or the shelf, and I could not see it on the box. I asked a member of staff who found out that the label was on the back of the box and the pomegranates are from the US. In the UK there is a legal obligation to label single ingredient fresh produce with the country of origin, but as more of the ‘fresh produce’ aisle is taken up processed foods provenance information is being lost. The packaged version just says ‘produced in Egypt’ which could well mean the fruit was just packaged there.

Pomegranates are fiddly to get the seeds out without seeds and juice flying everywhere. I can understand pre-prepared versions of this fruit, unlike ridiculous pre-peeled oranges encased in plastic. The best way I know to eat a fresh pomegranate is to cut off both ends, score a sharp knife through the skin in a circle around the middle and then about six lines from end to end. Then gently tear the fruit into chunks, and it is quite easy to get the seeds out and peel off the layers of white pith. It is still a bit fiddly. So a comparison between the fresh and the packaged - the juice from the fresh was much darker red, the classic colour that pomegranates are prized for, not really sweeter but a more complex flavour with more to it than the packaged one, which tasted fine but the fresh had the edge.

Pomegranates are considered a ‘superfood’ with all sorts of health benefits like reducing risks of cardiovascular disease and packed with antioxidants but I get a bit annoyed with certain fruits being trendy as supposedly the healthiest with the price then being hiked up. Lots of countries are increasing their production and exports of pomegranates, so some info about that will be pomegranates part 2 posting at some point.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

India's food exports boom, as 200 million people go hungry

India has more starving people than sub-Saharan Africa, with more than 200 million classified by IFPRI (International Food Policy research Institute) as hungry, even though the country is the world’s biggest rice grower with surplus grain in government warehouses. A bold policy proposal ensuring the right to food, the National Food Security Act would entitle every rural and urban family to 25 kilos of rice or wheat per month at a price of three rupees. This proposal has been widely welcomed, but previous government initiatives to reduce hunger have not met the stated targets.

In contrast, government supported programmes to increase India’s food exports are evidently a higher priority than feeding hungry people, as many of the export targets have been met. Whilst India’s other key export sectors, including textiles and jewellery, declined in 2008, plummeting 9.9 per cent in November alone, agricultural and processed food exports are booming. APEDA (Agricultural and Processed Foods Export Development Authority) reported that agricultural and processed foods exports totaled 17.5 million tones valued at Crore 31,820 in 2008. This is a growth of 46 per cent by value compared to 2007. It is worth pointing out, however, that the export volume growth of 70 per cent, from 10.9 million tones to 17.5 million tones, was much higher than the revenue growth, so the revenues are actually declining per tonne of food that is exported. APEDA is anticipating 20 per cent growth in exports for 2009, and has set a target to double India’s agricultural exports from $9 billion to $18 billion within five years.

Many countries including the US are investing heavily in India’s food processing industry. It is claimed that India will soon host the world’s biggest food park, the Himalya 13 hectare food plant near Delhi Airport will produce supposedly healthy functional foods, meal replacements, and processed bars made from nuts and berries and grains. Contract farming will source oats from Rajasthan and Gujarat, but other opportunities for Indian suppliers will be limited as US interests in the plant will be supported with nuts, almonds, and berries to be sourced from California. The US EXIM Bank has supported the plant with concessionary rates for the import of the plant and equipment. This is extending the supply chain, and increasing the environmental damage of transportation, for the construction and operation of the fancy food plant itself, as well as the actual products.
 



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