Archive for the ‘Fairtrade’ Category

A bit about Turmeric…

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

Turmeric RootSteenbergs Organic Fairtrade Turmeric comes from an organic and Fairtrade co-operative in the Kandy region of Sri Lanka. Turmeric originates from a root, known as the rhizome, Curcuma longa; it looks similar to ginger and galangal. To create turmeric powder, the turmeric rhizomes are lifted, boiled for one hour to fix the colours, dried for 10-15 days then cleaned (called polishing) before being crushed and ground.

The colour of turmeric comes from its natural curcumin colouration, although it’s commonly a bright yellow, it can also be more orange-yellow and almost brown.  Fairtrade turmeric has a distinct earthy aroma and a pleasing, sharp, bitter, spicy and lingering depth of flavour.

Turmeric has been widely used in Asia and India for centuries in cooking, and also as traditional medicines. Now, we are all beginning to understand its health benefits in a bit more detail.  As turmeric has been used as a traditional medicine, this implies that it may have health benefits, therefore here at Steenbergs we have done some googling and found that Curcumin doesn’t just give turmeric its vibrant yellow colour.

It is also the primary biologically active component of turmeric, as it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Due to this there is high interest in curcumin as a lead molecule in anti-inflammatory drug development strategies, as curcumin has potential to alleviate and prevent multiple disease conditions, such as cancer, Alzheimer disease, heart disease and arthritis.

Over the last 25 years, curcumin has been extensively evaluated for its health promoting properties. Preclinical investigations provide substantial and compelling support for curcumin’s antioxidant, immunomodulatory, and anti-inflammatory properties; clinical studies are less numerous but are growing in number. For example, a head to head study carried out by W.C. Roberts found that daily ingestion of the turmeric component, curcumin can improve endothelial function just as well as up to one hour of aerobic exercise a day can! However, it was found, to get the best improvement in endothelial function a combination of both daily aerobic exercise and curcumin consumption are needed. Large clinical studies are needed to confirm the benefits of curcumin, current ongoing clinical studies should provide further insights in the future.

A problem with curcumin is that the liver sees it as being toxic, and therefore curcumin gets digested very quickly, giving it a low bioavailability. However, it has been found that when curcumin is consumed with pepper this can increase the bioavailability of curcumin. This is due to peppers active component, piperine. Piperine is an inhibitor of drug metabolism and therefore, prevents the liver breaking down curcumin. This leads to an increase curcumin in the blood, causing increased bioavailability. Therefore, consuming curcumin with pepper may enhance the potential benefits of curcumin.

A great way to try it is in a turmeric latte.

Reference: 

Singletary,K.,(2010) Turmeric: An Overview of Potential Health Benefits. Nutrition Today, 45(5), 216-225.

https://www.jenreviews.com/pepper/ – has a great article on the health benefits of pepper including 15 different pepper recipes

 Nutritional Values for Steenbergs Organic Turmeric Powder:

Values per 100g

Energy- 341kcal; 1449kj

Protein – 8.5g

Carbohydrates- 75.2g

Fat-0.7g

Values per 2.5g

Energy- 9kcal; 36kj

Protein – 0.2g

Carbohydrates- 1.9g

Fat- 0.0g

 Try turmeric now! 

What’s Going On With Vanilla?

Monday, July 24th, 2017
Fille Vanille

Vanilla Beans Being Processed In Madagascar

Having built a decent line in Fairtrade organic vanilla, we recently have had to stop selling it to trade because of supply issues.  At the same time, we’ve been asked by many new customers for vanilla or Fairtrade vanilla.  Everyone’s scrabbling around for a very limited supply of real vanilla, and also wanting a cheaper price where there’s none to be had – the market really has no supply and the prices are over £500/kg if you can find it.

But why is Steenbergs only selling it retail and not to wholesale customers?

In short, it’s because we’ve made almost nothing on vanilla over the last few years, vainly hoping that supply and pricing issues would ease through time.  However, because of recent cyclones and changes to vanilla processing in Madagascar, prices have remained too high for us to finance anymore.  So when we were asked to commit £250,000 for what used to cost £50,000, we politely decided now was the time to stop selling vanilla on a general scale.

Many reasons have been given for why the pricing is so high.  But it really is a simple economic matter of supply and demand – bad weather and poor processing practices have materially reduced the quantity of vanilla from the world’s largest producer (Madagascar) without any material reduction in demand.

It’s become a real issue in the industry, meaning that very little is available in the market.  And with retailers unwilling to move prices, it became a mug’s game to continue subsidising the prices.

But the real story is more nuanced and has its root cause in the introduction of free markets into the vanilla sector in the 1990s, and the rise of neoliberalisim and the Washington Consensus.  It has taken 20 years to unravel but the end result will be increased poverty within Madagascar, as well as fewer natural vanilla ice cream products on the shelves of high street retailers.

For those interested in the longer view, here’s my timeline:

Where The Story Begins: 1995 – 2000

Vanilla Planters Walking Along Track

Vanilla Planters Walking Along Track

The seeds of the vanilla story can be found in 1995.  Before then, the vanilla market was a fixed monopoly – the Madagascan Government controlled quality, harvesting and pricing, which it negotiated with the major exporters and producers each year in Paris.  This ensured vanilla beans were harvested at strict times, were processed at Government curing centres and that prices were kept in a tight $70 – $90/kg.

But the rise of neoliberal economics and the Washington Consensus put paid to this,  Following advice from the EU and the World Bank, Madagascar dropped the carefully controlled, planned vanilla economy and let rip with free market economics.  Immediately, the price of vanilla plunged.  Next, the EU unravelled the state-controlled curing system and encouraged farmers to cure their own beans to earn more cash for themselves.  While prices continued to remain low, quality also suffered.

Allied to this, Madagascan politics were tricky to say the least, with the Madagascan Government suffering many years of weak government, governance and political instability.

The Start Of Fairtrade Vanilla: 2005 – 2013

When we started out in 2004, there had been three years of failed crops in Madagascar, which supplies around 85% of global supply.  The price of vanilla rocketed to a high of $600 (2005).  Small-scale farmers around the world wanted to cash in and took out bank loans to plant vanilla vines – vanilla really is a real small-scale artisan crop.

But by 2006, the Madagascan crop had succeeded, together with additional supply from new regions, and the price imploded, crashing to $50 (2005/6), then further down to $25 (2006-8).  Financial disaster ensued for the many farmers that had borrowed against the higher prices.

In stepped Fairtrade.  This was a classic Fairtrade scenario – to protect relatively unsophisticated farmers, who grow cash crops in the Global South for the Global North, from the harshest impacts of free markets, and the effects of global commodity and financial markets.  Fairtrade vanilla supply chains were developed in Madagascar and India.

The Vanilla Tightens: 2013 – 2017

However, the story did not end there.

In 2013/4, real vanilla began to increase in popularity as a premium addition to many products, with consumer interest in purity – organicFairtradeGMO-free becoming important.  With increased demand, prices for vanilla began to move from $20/kg to $55-65/kg.  At the same time, farmers started storing their vanilla in vacuum packs.  After several poor harvests, prices rocket to $80/kg from $30/kg for green beans by the end of the year, with cured vanilla at $240/kg.

In 2017, when the market was expecting a better harvest, disaster struck with the devastating cyclone – Enawo – bringing winds of up to 270 km/hour.  It began on 7 March striking land between Antalaha and Sambava, then forked to Maroansetra and Mananara, before crossing the centre of Madagascar and leaving on the south of the island on 10 March.  It destroyed about 20% of vanilla plants in Madagascar, hitting the north-east and east coast of Madagascar the hardest.  Antalaha was affected the most, with 90% of the town, its infrastructure and crops destroyed.  Enawo’s impact has been that all the expected uplift in supply was decimated, so the harvest is expected to remain at 2016 levels at about 12,000 tonnes, equivalent to 1,400 tonnes of exportable vanilla beans (i.e. 8kg of green vanilla for 1kg cured vanilla) – this is insufficient for global demand.

The organic market is even tighter.  Effectively, there is no free stock in the supply chain, with speculators buying up anything they can find, drip feeding them into the market at very high prices.  Cured organic vanilla is at $545/kg and we expect it to be at these levels for at least another 18 months and there to be no meaningful reduction in prices until 2019-20.

With our forward contracts delivered and at these high prices, vanilla pods and vanilla extract has now become uneconomic and high risk.  Therefore, in May 2017, Steenbergs decided to reduce its position in the market and only fulfil internet orders, removing itself from the wholesale market.  Basically, the risks in the market became too great for a small business like Steenbergs.

Downside Risks – Disaster Looms in 2020?

It is our opinion that disaster looms ahead for vanilla with a market crash self-evident.

On the one hand, high prices are great news for farmers.  However, the short-term masks significant downside risks in the not too distant future:

  • Demand is contracting with end-users reformulating and/or switching to artificial alternatives.  Industrial vanillin is suitable for many applications where a velvety richness is needed, without any complexity of aroma or taste – e.g. for cheaper chocolate or soft drinks.  In the period 2000 – 2005, about one-quarter of demand fell away, although some returned more recently with demand for pure vanilla.
  • Supply is increasing with vanilla vines being replanted at a rate of 25%.  Vanilla orchids flower 3 – 4 years after being planted, with vanilla pods being harvested for the first time several months later.  This replanting will return production to higher levels than prior to 2010.

The convergence of reduced demand and increased supply will at some point cause prices to crash – perhaps in 2020.  When that happens, it will unfortunately be the small-scale farmers that suffer – as always.

Win a box of Steenbergs Fairtrade goodies to celebrate Fairtrade Fortnight 2017!

Friday, February 17th, 2017
Click here to view this promotion.

 

Congratulation to John Lock for winning this prize, which has been sent to him. Many thanks to all who entered.