Banana crops across the world face a new challenge

The humble banana is the world’s fourth largest crop after wheat, rice and corn. Although 85% of production is consumed in the producing countries and just 15% exported to Europe and North America, the menace of the latest disease has already ravaged 10,000 hectares starting in the Far East and spreading through Central America. The Cavendish banana developed by Joseph Paxton in 1830 was thought to be proof against the disease which destroyed the previous most used banana cultivar, Le Gros Michel. Not so, time has caught up on the Cavendish and sadly there is little that can stop the disease from spreading from tree to tree, from plantation to plantation.

Help is at hand through work being done by a team at Wageningen University in The Netherlands. The full story can be seen on the Panamadisease.org website. Shall we run out of bananas, probably not, can we develop a GM banana cultivar which will endure, the answer is yes.

Adrian Binsted, Editor

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Food Shortage in Africa

Following on from what we said last month, the situation in parts of Africa is deteriorating due to the effects of the El Nino weather system. The UN World Food Programme say that Malawi will bear the brunt of the shortages followed by Zimbabwe and Madagascar. The lack of rain will cause millions to go hungry without help from the international community.

Adrian Binsted, Editor, Food Trade Review

Palm Oil and Rice

The latest news over the weekend was that the expansion of rice paddies and palm oil groves is damaging the environment in Asia and the Pacific Rim. Apparently the mangrove swamps are under threat. These protect the coastal areas from erosion and also prevent damage to the reefs which in turn protect the shores of islands and coastal areas around estuaries.

I need to do more research to discover how this will affect food security in the future, as my knowledge of geology is not good. I imagine there are fish and other creatures that live off whatever algae and plants exist in these tidal areas. Natural nature reserves for birds certainly but will it affect agriculture or be affected by agriculture?

Thoughts and suggestion will be most welcome.

Adrian Binsted, Editor, Food Trade Review

Drought and flood influence food prices

The United Kingdom has always relied on imported food; currently about 40 percent of what we eat is brought into this country. A legacy of Empire is that we import from around the world so that droughts and floods influence the prices of those foods on an almost daily basis.

Parts of India have suffered a second year of less than average rainfall meaning that pulses and grains are in short supply. Rice and wheat are the main cash crops and take precedence over pulses and grains. According to Government figures, India requires about 23m tonnes of pulses and grains for their own people each year, with only 17.2m tonnes produced in 2013 and 19.78m tonnes produced in 2014. That means large imports from other countries in the Asian region as this is the staple diet for the millions of non-meat eaters in India. This could of course mean a shortage for the health food shops in this country serving the vegetarian population.

To add to the problems in India, the lack of rain means that it has become difficult to extract salt from the vast salt flats in Gujurat State. This arid desert area is a leftover from a bygone age when this was all part of the vast Arabian Sea.

So we come back to the same old question. Do vast weather patterns influenced by the monsoons across Asia and El Nino in the Pacific Ocean over the centuries create floods, drought and famine or is this all down to climate change?

Adrian Binsted, The Editor, Food Trade Review

Pulses & Grains

The United Kingdom has always relied on imported food; currently about 40 percent of what we eat is brought into this country. A legacy of Empire is that we import from around the world so that droughts and floods influence the prices of those foods on an almost daily basis.

Parts of India have suffered a second year of less than average rainfall meaning that pulses and grains are in short supply. Rice and wheat are the main cash crops and take precedence over pulses and grains. According to Government figures, India requires about 23m tonnes of pulses and grains for their own people each year, with only 17.2m tonnes produced in 2013 and 19.78m tonnes produced in 2014. That means large imports from other countries in the Asian region as this is the staple diet for the millions of non-meat eaters in India. This could of course mean a shortage for the health food shops in this country serving the vegetarian population.

To add to the problems in India, the lack of rain means that it has become difficult to extract salt from the vast salt flats in Gujurat State. This arid desert area is a leftover from a bygone age when this was all part of the vast Arabian Sea.

So we come back to the same old question. Do vast weather patterns influenced by the monsoons across Asia and El Nino in the Pacific Ocean over the centuries create floods, drought and famine or is this all down to climate change?

Adrian Binsted, The Editor

Effects on World Food Prices – 2

Central America’s so-called ‘Dry Corridor’ runs through El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In Guatemala the crops supporting over 900,000 people have failed because rainfall has been below average for four out of the last six years. Corn and beans are the crops for tens of thousands of subsistence farmers, but this year there is little to harvest with nearly 80 percent of the corn simply ‘withering on the vine’. This comes on top of the coffee ‘rust’ crisis which has also hit the country. Food aid will become a necessity to feed these people. The United Nations estimate that altogether some two and a half million people could be affected over the whole of Central America’s ‘Dry Corridor’.
Adria Binsted
Editor