Monday, March 15, 2010

NAMIBIA: Rice research blossoms into national venture

What began as a small-scale experiment by a University of Namibia associate professor to grow rice in areas where it had not previously been possible, has metamorphosed into a thriving rice-growing venture that has been declared a national project by the government. Namibia is a drought-prone country with two deserts, the Namib and the Kalahari, that are expanding annually. The former is the oldest desert on earth. Water is a severely limiting factor for crop production in a country of just over two million people, 65% of whom live in rural areas where drought and marginal agricultural land are common features. Namibia imports about 80% of its food from neighbouring South Africa. Attempts to grow rice in the north-central region of Namibia nearly 20 years ago failed. A few years later, inquisitive agronomist Professor Luke Kanyomeka began small-scale trials to ascertain which varieties of rice could potentially be grown in Namibia's seasonal wetlands. He came across New Rice for Africa (Nerica), a rice cultivar created by the West African Rice Development Association to improve rice yields. "Generally rice requires a lot of water. Paddy rice, which is commonly grown all over the world, is unsuitable for Namibia because the country is semi-arid," Kanyomeka, a Zambian with a PhD in weed science, told University World News. He obtained rice from the West African Rice Development Association and the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. "We then did partial cultivars in Caprivi which showed promise." Caprivi is a region in far north-eastern Namibia. In October 2007, the government asked the University of Namibia to help grow rice in Kalimbeza in Caprivi and the job fell to Kanyomeka to spearhead the project. This has earned him the nickname 'Prof Rice'. "We started off with only three hectares. We have identified four varieties of rice that can be grown in the north-central regions of Namibia, whose land could not be used for even growing pearl millet. These varieties have yields of between five and eight tonnes per hectare." The project grew rapidly, prompting President Hefikepunye Pohamba to declare it a national venture last October. So far this year, the project has harvested 80 tonnes of rice, double that produced last season. Kanyomeka said the project aimed to satisfy Namibia's domestic demand for rice: "The land at Kalimbeza will not be enough to produce rice for the whole country. Accordingly, we want to extend rice production to small-scale farmers in the Caprivi, Kavango, Oshana, Omusati, Ohangwena and Oshikoto. We have already trained three researchers and three technicians to support small-scale farmers." The project team also plan to train seven agricultural extension technicians in rice farming. "We are preparing for this with Kink University of Japan, with whom we have done research in seasonal wetlands in Oshana," Kanyomeka explained. The project has created seasonal jobs for 200 villagers who are hired for transplanting, weeding and harvesting. The Namibian government plans to buy equipment for the project and to help set up a research station to conduct more research on rice farming.

LT Foods has good potential in India: Chugh

Ashish Chugh, Investment Analyst & Author of Hidden Gems feels that food product companies has got good potential in India and LT Foods is a company which is available at PE multiple of 5, which is very reasonable valuations. Chugh told CNBC-TV18, “LT Foods has its rice mill factory at three locations which is Sonipat, Amritsar and Bhopal. The brands of the company are Davat and Heritage. This company has a strong distribution network not only in India but also overseas. About two years back this company acquired a US company called Kusha Inc, which has got a 42% market share of the US rice market. This has been a big positive for LT Foods.” He added, “If we see financials of the company, the first nine months sales of the company is at about Rs 760 crore and PAT is about Rs 24 crore which gives it an annualized EPS of about Rs 12-13. So the stock is currently trading close to Rs 60, which is available at a PE multiple of less than 5.” “Recently the India Agri-Business fund advised by Rabo Equity advisors has taken a stake not just in LT foods but also in one of the subsidiaries of LT Foods which is Davat Foods Ltd. Given all these factors the food product companies have got good potential in India and LT foods is a company which is available at PE multiple of 5 and this is available at very reasonable valuations,” he said.

Litle sign of rice price coming down

The coarse rice has been selling at taka 22 to 28 based on quality, middle quality BR-29 for taka 32 and the fine quality of rice at taka 40 to 41 in Amtally Upazilla of Barguna district The retailers said, there was litle sign of the price coming down soon.

In contrast, the price of some of the vegetables is cheap and of some is precious. Both potato and brinjal, the two most consumed products, sell at taka 10 to 12 per kilo, but biter gourd is selling for taka 30 and ladies finger for taka 40 only.

Pulse is still dear as lentil is selling at taka 120 only while green gram at a litle bit lower rate. Mash and gram are not found in the markets. Edible oil in pot of five litres is selling for taka 480, sugar at taka 60 to 65 and salt for taka 20 only. But as for the salt producers, the sad story is that the local producers have been incurring huge losses as their production cost is much higher than their sale price. The benefit is going to the middlemen's dens; also the importers.

Fish is really dear. The small species of fish as well as the river and the sea shad have almost disappeared from the markets. The reason behind the Hilsha fish disappearing is the imposition of ban on fishing for certain number of months.

Fishermen who are used to catching Hilsha fish are passing hard days. However, carp and ruhit of smallsize ate selling for taka 160 to 180 per kilo. The small pieces o fish though found in small quantity sell through bargaining between the sellers and the buyers.

Bengal gets paddy drying floor

Rice production in Region Six got a boost on Friday with the commissioning of a new paddy drying facility at Number 43 Village (Bengal).

According to a release from the Government Infor-mation Agency (GINA), the facility was officially declared open by Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud who stated that rice farmers will benefit tremendously since it will provide an opportunity for easier storage and increased value. This, he noted would result in better prices on the regional and international markets. Internally, he noted the facility will allow local farmers to better prepare seeds for the next crop. According to GINA, the project is an aspect of President Bharrat Jagdeo’s desire to ensure that interventions by the administration in assisting rice farmers bring immediate relief and more importantly, eliminate the practice of paddy being dried along the roadways in production locations.

According to GINA, since a significant amount of land has been turned over to rice cultivation, more infrastructure is to be prepared for drying purposes, due to an increase in acreage under cultivation requiring the need to create more facilities. Some 50,000 acres of new lands or reclaimed lands have been introduced into the rice belt, GINA noted.

General Secretary of the Rice Producers Association, Dharamkumar Seeraj stressed the importance of the drying floor and the construction of such facilities by the government.

According to GINA, Minister Persaud stated that large sums have been allocated in the 2010 budget to finance more agricultural facilities and as such he encouraged all stakeholders to continue to work together in the best interest of all concerned. On this note, Persaud used as an example farmers working to clear canals manually and in the Black Bush Polder area repairs were affected to a pump by the community which resulted in more water being made available.

Minister Persaud also referred to the impact the El Nino weather phenomenon has had on the country, noting that the dry weather has caused distress with the loss of some 2000 acres of rice land. As a result, the release stated, the Agriculture Ministry is conducting an ‘all-out effort’ to minimize losses and to maintain an adequate supply of the commodity to satisfy the market, with some 112,000 tonnes being ready for export.

According to the release, the Ministry of Agriculture is overseeing the process which will see more mechanisms being put in place to ensure that front lands are irrigated. This involves the creation of a separate and independent system to have drainage and irrigation applied to farms in front and backlands. Engineers from the Guyana Sugar Corporation are assisting in addressing conflicts with farmers over water distribution. The release stated that works will begin on the rehabilitation of pump stations at Mibicuri and Annerbisi, while a mobile pump is on the cards as well as support for drainage and irrigation infrastructure in the area.

Farmers call on govt to lift ban on food export

At least 312 tons of rice in Kilombero may rot or sold at throw-away prices following the government decision to ban their export to avert food shortage in the country.
The stocks belong to Kilombero High Quality Rice Growers Federation – better known in its Kiswahili acronym as Akirigo.

The Akirigo chairman, Mr Athuman Ngongowele said during the weekends that the stocks are piled in their silos - located at Kikwawila, Mang'ula A, Katulukila, Sonjo and Mkula areas – due to the ban.

At the same time, local buyers offer very low prices that will help farmers nothing.

“Locally, we are required to sell at Sh460/kilogram. Any price below Sh600/kilogram will means that we will be unable to pay the loans to the National Microfinance Bank….the government has to decide on this promptly because we are required to start repaying the loans on March 31, this year,” he said.

Last year, the federation got a loan of Sh253 million from NMB that was invested in rice farming.

The goal was to harvest 720 tons of rice but they managed to yield only 312 tons due to what he said to be delays in issuance of the loan.

“If the government cannot allow us export then it has to subsidize for the price so that we can repay the loans and in the end, farmers can get some token benefits from their produce,” he said.

The federation comprise of over 5,200 members who are all farmers in the district.

Two weeks ago, farmers in Rukwa complained that over one million tonnes of food crops harvested in the region may rot due to the ban on food exports.

The region harvested about 1.6 million tons of food crops last year but it (the region) requires only 250,000 for the farmers’ own consumption.
The Rukwa Regional Commissioner Daniel Ole Njoolay told a Network of Smallholder Farmers (Mviwata) in Mbeya recently that the National Food Reserve Agency in Rukwa was capable of buying only 40,000 tonnes per year, but the government had increased the amount to 60,000 tonnes.

However, that still left over 1.3 million tonnes without an assured local market, now when the government has banned export of food crops.

The Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Dr David Mathayo maintained that the government will not change its decision, noting however that it (the government) will look closely into the Rukwa case.

Area farmers switching to rice

Crop replacing corn, soybeans and cotton
More northern Louisiana farmers are switching to rice instead of corn, soybeans and cotton.
Garrett Marsh of Tallulah grew his first rice crop last year. "I was here to get a refresher," he said of a recent rice growing clinic sponsored by the LSU AgCenter.

He also farms corn and soybeans, but he has eliminated cotton, replacing it with rice.

Marsh said he was satisfied with his first rice crop that yielded 181 bushels to 200 bushels an acre.

He said the soil on his farm is heavy clay, more suited for rice than cotton.

Because rice doesn't suffer through droughts, it is a more dependable crop because water is pumped onto the crop.

Marsh's father, Jim, also of Tallulah, said hot summers often create quality problems for soybeans.

"You can't sell rotten soybeans," he said.

Garrett said he is eager to plant his rice crop this spring, although drill seeding will be a problem if some of the ground moisture doesn't evaporate.

"If it will just give us a week of dry weather, it will dry up."

Don Taves of Tallulah has planted rice previously but said he always learns something from the clinics.

"It was a good refresher course," he said.

Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, said he expects more acreage will be water-planted this year because wet weather is keeping the ground saturated.

"I expect we're going to see some water-seeded rice that wasn't intended to be because of the weather," Saichuk said.

Water-seeded rice is planted on flooded prepared fields after the seeds are presoaked.

Water management is the key to a successful rice crop, Saichuk said.

"If there is any single factor, it's water management — when to get the water on and when to get it off."

Herbicides function better in wet conditions, he said.

Bill Williams, LSU AgCenter weed specialist, reviewed options for controlling weeds. "There's not a herbicide out there that you can use against every weed," he said.

Farmers should aim to keep weeds under control two weeks after planting and to keep fields clean of weeds for eight weeks to retain 90 percent of their yield.

He said the most common problem farmers face is allowing weeds to get too large before trying to control them.

Williams urged farmers to evaluate potential varieties in deciding which herbicides to use.

R.L. Frazier, LSU AgCenter county agent in Madison Parish, said the idea for a clinic for new rice farmers originated after talking with Donna Lee, LSU AgCenter county agent in East Carroll Parish, and Dennis Burns, LSU AgCenter county agent in Tensas Parish.

Most of the rice produced in Louisiana is grown in the southwestern part of the state, Saichuk said. Traditionally, about 20 percent of the rice crop is grown in the northeast part of the state.

"But that percentage is going up this year," Saichuk.

Debate: Is it proper for China to grow GM rice now?

Permission to allow field trials of genetically modified (GM) rice seed has raised food safety concerns. A scientist and a journalist take an opposing stand to a US political science professor.
Wang Chaohua: Dangers are there for all to see
Debate: Is it proper for China to grow GM rice now?
China's food safety laws and regulations are largely based on the guidelines of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But are the FDA prescriptions reliable enough?
In 1992, the FDA turned a blind eye to strong protests and even the opposition of its own scientists to state that genetically modified (GM) foods are as safe as any for human consumption and, hence, there was no need to give an explanation about GM foods. This move was widely criticized as arbitrary, given the role one Michael Taylor played in the case.
Taylor was then assistant FDA commissioner but soon left to serve as chief legal adviser to Monsanto, the world's largest seed company. Moreover, a new law drafted by Taylor did not consider facts found in a research from 1958 that illegal pesticides and food additives could cause cancer.
Food safety laws in China have become a subject of public debate again after the Ministry of Agriculture granted permission to carry out trials with GM rice seed.
GM seed companies claim their products could raise crop output by 15 to 40 percent, which many experts believe to be an exaggeration. What has been proved, instead, is that GM seed are unable to adapt to abrupt climate changes and may thus cause sharp drop in output. Last year, South African farmers who had planted Monsanto's GM corn seeds 820,000 hectares reported crop failure.
This is a scary fact. And China, which has a huge population to feed, cannot take the risk to try out GM grain seeds. Scarier is the fact that GM seeds lead farmers into a vicious cycle - the more crop failure they suffer, the deeper they get into the cycle.
GM seed companies also claim their products require much less use of pesticides. But statistics show no considerable reduction in the use of pesticides on farms where GM seeds had been planted. Instead, GM seeds raise a big health concern: The sharp increase in the use weedkiller genes, introduced genetically in the seeds. These genes can enter the human body. As early as 2000, German scientists working on GM colza pollen found the use of weedkiller genes had altered honeybees' enteric genetic structure.
Cannot this kind of gene transformation occur in humans who consume GM food? Experiments on animals have proved that GM foods have the potential to cause serious health damage even in a very short period. These tests show GM foods can harm animals' reproductive systems and raise infant mortality rates.
Debate: Is it proper for China to grow GM rice now?GM foods' gene modification could take generations to suit the human body. GM foods not only have the potential of harming the human body, but also of causing irrecoverable damage to the soil, that is, biological pollution, which is more dangerous than chemical pollution. Research has shown genes of micro-organisms and weeds have undergone changes in farms where GM seeds had been planted.
But what can the poor end consumer do under the pressure of the multi-billion-dollar GM seed industry? Take the case of Fox TV for example. The TV channel, under alleged pressure from Monsanto, fired two of its reporters who tried to expose GM foods' for the harm they could cause to humans. In 2008, French independent filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin's documentary, The World According to Monsanto, was banned from being screened in the US. Perhaps, only the EU takes a serious and prudent view of GM crops. The EU has strict rules that make it mandatory for GM foods to carry labels with detailed information on the materials they contain.
China should have taken all the above into consideration before allowing trials of GM rice seeds.

Xiong Lei: Decision should be left to end users
The government's approval to grow genetically modified (GM) rice, though on a trial basis, has again triggered a controversy over whether China should take the lead in subjecting a staple food crop to this technology.
It's not surprising to see GM-seed advocates condemn opponents for their "ignorance" of biotechnology and "phobia" for anything obtained through genetic modification. Champions of biotechnology will present all sorts of data and evidence to assure people that GM rice is safe.
Debate: Is it proper for China to grow GM rice now?
Yet the core question concerning the GM rice issue is not whether it is safe but whether people's rights will be honored, especially their foremost right to choose what they eat. Do people have the right not to consume GM rice and other GM crops? Will the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) guarantee people their right to choose non-GM food?
Even if a person is convinced that GM rice is safe, he or she should not be forced to consume it. And GM seed companies should not be allowed to change the situation in the farming sector to such an extent that people would be left with no option but to consume GM rice.
Such a worry is not groundless. Years ago, GM cotton seeds were introduced to China without telling farmers what they were. They were marketed as "super cotton" seeds. As a result, a large number of farmers across the country had begun growing "super cotton" seeds even before it received official approval.
We thanked heaven that (GM) cotton was not a food crop. But food crops were not spared the GM dose for long. GM soybean and corn began dominating our edible oil market even before we became aware of it. The MOA actually still owes us an explanation for this.
We cannot surrender our rights again to choose what we want to grow and eat now that the MOA has agreed to conduct trials with GM rice seeds. We have the right, and that right is sacred, to refuse GM rice on our dinner tables.
So if the ministry's decision to conduct trials with GM rice seeds is irreversible, effective measures should be taken to ensure the fields it is planted on are segregated and do not pollute non-GM rice fields. The MOA has to take steps to punish any violation, too.
Next comes people's right to know. Apart from the possible GM ingredients contained in food packets on supermarket shelves, we should be convinced that GM rice is not the only solution to the food problem we are facing or are likely to face before we are forced to eat it.
People need to know, too, why no other country is growing GM grain for direct human consumption. Have other biological means been exhausted to solve the food problem? Before asserting the use of GM rice seed did the authorities and "official" scientists try other ways to meet the challenge?
Data provided by GM-grain advocates shows that by 2005 - decades after GM seeds were introduced - only about 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries were growing GM crops. This is a small figure compared to the total number of farmers in the world. Then why should China be so eager to lead the world in commercialization of GM rice? This leads us to a vital question: Does the country spend enough on research in and development of grains. Sources say researchers in GM organisms have dominated the grants allocation, many of who have personal commercial interests in promoting GM food. If that is true, the authorities should never grant permission for GM rice cultivation.
Finally, as end users people should have the final say on GM rice. Since it concerns our staple, the decision to grow GM rice should not be left to the whim and fancy of a few fanciful researchers.
Robert Paarlberg: Evidence versus raw emotion
Debate: Is it proper for China to grow GM rice now?
China's Biosafety Committee in the Ministry of Agriculture has granted safety certificates for the domestic production of two kinds of rice genetically engineered to resist pests. China already allows the production of pest-resistant genetically engineered cotton, but the latest move toward approving a major genetically engineered food crop is stirring controversy.
Political misgivings about genetically engineered foods first emerged in Europe when the first shipments of genetically engineered soybeans reached there from the United States in 1996. At that exact moment, Europe was in the grips of a major food safety scare over an unrelated problem known as "mad cow disease", undercutting consumer confidence in the European regulators who had said the soybeans were safe to eat.
Fifteen years have now passed and there is still no documented evidence of any new harm from genetically engineered food, but European activist groups (led by Greenpeace International, from Amsterdam) continue to campaign against the technology, including now in China.
What these activists do not admit is that Europe's top scientists have long since found today's genetically engineered foods to be just as safe as conventional foods. This is also the official position of the International Council for Science (ICSU), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, World Health Organization and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.
It is revealing that while Europeans generally do not like the use of genetic engineering in agriculture, they have no objection to its use in medicine. They don't like genetic engineering in food because they are already well fed (indeed, overfed) without the technology. It is Europe's lack of a need for this technology, not the presence of any new risk, which has been behind the protests.
China should make a decision on this technology based on the needs of its farmers and consumers. Critics wrongly assert that genetically engineered crops are more likely than conventional crops to result in pesticide-resistant insects or invasive super-weeds, an assertion rejected authoritatively by the ICSU.
A second favorite charge is that pollen from genetically engineered crops will kill butterfly larvae, even though studies conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency found this risk to be "negligible" under actual field conditions. Another bogus yet widely circulated charge is that genetically modified organism (GMO) crops contain "terminator genes", which render the seeds sterile, a ridiculous assertion given that the technology was originally spread to Brazil and India by individual farmers who freely replicated and replanted the seeds.
It has been asserted that GMO crops are so prone to failure that they have driven small cotton farmers deep into debt. This is a laughable charge in China, where small farmers have been planting these new varieties with nothing but commercial success since 1997 .
Activists have also raised a number of bogus food safety concerns about genetically engineered crops. Without any supporting experimental evidence activists try to argue that eating GMO foods will transfer antibiotic resistance genes into the human body. They now point to a study done in Austria in 2008 purporting to find lower reproduction rates among mice that had been fed with genetically engineered corn, even though the Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms of the European Union reviewed the study and found multiple errors which nullified the conclusions.

Industrial Bleach in Chinese Flour, Oil in Rice, Expert Says

A Chinese food expert writes a letter exposing malpractice in the industry

A food processing industry veteran in China’s Hubei Province had a letter published last week exposing what he regards as severe food safety problems in China.

Published in the Wuhan Daily News on March 7, Li Deshou’s letter has since been widely quoted by many Chinese bloggers. He pointed out that food safety issues are terrible and widespread, and that authorities have to take immediate action.

Mr. Li, Chairman of the Grain Association in Guangshui City and Vice Chairman of the Grain Association in Suizhou City, has been in the food processing industry for 17 years and has been directly involved in selling rice.

He stated that almost all of the rice sold in Wuhan from Suizhou has been polished with soybean oil. “Polishing rice with soybean oil has become a common under-the-table practice for some unethical plants.”

Oil added to rice becomes rancid easily and can therefore cause harm to the human body if eaten. Some unethical processing plants even use industrial oil; the potential consequences of this practice can range from damage to the digestive and neural systems to death, according to Mr. Li’s letter.

Mr. Li later told a reporter from Sound of Hope

Industrial bleach is commonly used in flour, too, he said. The corrosive properties of the bleach, if used at a high dose, can damage the digestive system, and harm the liver, kidneys, and circulatory system, Mr. Li wrote.

Pig farms routinely add chemicals, hormones, and drugs that have not been tested to their pig feed too, he wrote. Spoiled vegetable oil and peanut oil are also common additives.

He concluded his letter by saying that after witnessing so many shocking aspects of the food processing industry, he was compelled to step forward and tell the truth. He cited two core objectives: to alert consumers, and to urge the Chinese authorities to establish food processing standards and enforce these standards via public monitoring organizations.

The letter was sent during the sensitive period around the “Two Sessions,” the name given to the congregations of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference--mostly ineffectual government organs meant to approve and recommend policy for the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
(SOH) radio that rice that has been polished with soybean oil looks more attractive. “It is easy to spot rice that has been polished with soybean oil as there is often an oily residue left on the packaging. After polishing, rice loses some of its nutrients and vitamins, and may be harmful to the digestive system,” Mr. Li said.