QUOTE OF THE WEEK
This week’s quote comes from ABARES, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences on Australia’s agricultural export outlook.
“Australian farm exports are forecast to be around $47.7 billion in 2016-17 and $48.7 billion in 2017-18, up from $44.7 billion in 2015-16. BY 2021-22 earnings from agricultural exports are projected to be around $46.6 billion (in 2016-17 dollars).”
A CIRCULAR TALE OF CHANGING FOOD PREFERENCES
Africa mostly missed out on the green revolution that boosted agricultural production in Asia from the 1960s onwards. That was partly because of war and lousy government. Another problem is that growing conditions in Africa are both distinct from those in Asia and highly varied across the continent. “We don’t have the same soils, we don’t have the same diseases, we don’t have the same pests,” says Harold Roy-Macauley, the head of Africa Rice, which co-ordinates research in Africa. Yet the continent is beginning to catch up, with rice farmers in the vanguard.
Between 2000 and 2014 rice production in west Africa jumped from 7.1m tonnes to 16.8m tonnes. In the Ivory Coast, which is mostly known as a cocoa producer, the rice harvest tripled over that time. New hybrid seed lines developed specifically for Africa, such as NERICA and WITA, have boosted yields and enabled farmers to grow rice in dry areas where sorghum was once the dominant crop.
Rice has long been popular in some west African countries, such as Senegal. It is becoming a staple in much of the region. Thomas Reardon, who studies food at Michigan State University, says that urbanisation is driving demand. Urban workers developed a taste for rice in cafés and now cook it at home. Besides, rice is less fiddly to cook than millet or sorghum.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation, a branch of the UN, estimates that rice consumption per head is growing faster in sub-Saharan Africa than in any other region. That is likely to persist, because Africa’s cities are adding inhabitants so fast—by 3% a year, on average. So there is plenty of opportunity for African farmers. And African demand is also a boon to the rice-producing countries of Asia. They could do with some new customers, because demand at home is not what it was.
Between the early 1960s and the early 1990s, rice consumption per head rose steadily, from an average of 85 kilograms per year to 103. As Asia scraped its way out of poverty people began to consume more food, and rice was available and affordable. In the poorest Asian countries, such as Bangladesh and Cambodia, a full rice bowl remains a sign of plenty (70% of calories come from rice in Bangladesh) and people continue to eat more of it.
But rice consumption is now more-or-less flat in Asia as a whole. In better-off countries rice is going out of fashion. Figures from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggest that rice consumption per head has fallen since 2000 in China, Indonesia and South Korea, and has crashed in Singapore. Obeying a rule known as Bennett’s law, wealthier Asians are getting more of their calories from vegetables, fruit, meat, fish and dairy products. And, as in Africa, many people are switching to another grain.
Wheat consumption is rising quickly in countries like Thailand and Vietnam. South-East Asian countries will consume 23.4m tonnes of wheat in 2016-17, estimates the USDA—up from 16.5m tonnes in 2012-13. Almost all of it will be imported. In South Asia consumption is expected to grow from 121m to 139m tonnes in the same period. India, which was recently a large net exporter of wheat, has become a net importer. Some of the wheat is for animal feed, but most is simply for eating.
This trend has a long way to run, thinks Rabobank, a bank. South-East Asians still eat only 26kg of wheat a year, much less than the world average of 78kg. They seem unperturbed by price rises: wheat-eating kept growing even as the grain became more expensive between 2009 and 2013, although its use as an animal feed declined. Still, rice will remain central to many Asian cultures.
|THE HUNT FOR THE PERFECT SUGAR
When the history of sugar is written, 2016 may go down as the year its image turned. Obesity and diabetes were already national emergencies, with the latter representing 10% of U.S. health care costs in recent years.
But now an increasing number of researchers have also begun linking our favourite natural sweetener to such dreaded conditions as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. Revelations in the fall suggested that the sugar industry paid Harvard scientists in the 1960s to trivialise its role in coronary problems and instead play up saturated fat as the culprit.
“Sugar is the new tobacco” in the minds of the public, says David Turner, a global food and drink analyst at market research firm Mintel.
Next year the Food and Drug Administration will start requiring companies to reveal the amount of added sugars on product packaging.
Research firm NDP Group has found that sugar is now the No. 1 substance they are trying to cut or eliminate from their diets. Some 74% of packaged foods and beverages in the U.S. contain some form of sweetener, making it a more than $100 billion market.
Some scientists believe fixing sugar is a better idea than replacing it. DouxMatok, a start-up based in Israel, is taking a lesson from the pharmaceutical industry’s research in targeted drug delivery. It coasts minerals with sugar, which keeps most of it from being released until it hits the sweetness receptor. Since very little material is lost on its journey, the company says it can achieve the same level of sweetness by using up to 50% less sugar.
Nestle, is trying to change sugar’s structure, essentially by hollowing it out. Stefan Catsicas, the company’s head of innovation, describes a sugar crystal as being like a box. We taste only the outside of it in our mouths, but we swallow the contents of the entire thing even though the sugar on the inside is not essential to the sense in our mouth. “We can structure it so whatever we put on the tongue will be perceived and will represent most of what we swallow,”. This could potentially cut down on sugar by up to 40%,. The tradeoff – is that the structure is destroyed in water, which is present it most foods. Luckily for Nestle, chocolate is one of the only foods that are not aqueous.
|CHART OF THE WEEK
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