From Nigeria to Brazil, ‘halo’ crops reap the benefits of the pandemic

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In a flowing cream hijab, Karima M. Imam walks through her fields in the scrubland of northern Nigeria as workers harvest a gnarled brown root that has turned golden since COVID struck: ginger.

“If I had the capital, I would plant more. People are looking for ginger now, and there isn’t enough of it,” she said at her five-hectare farm on the outskirts of Kaduna.

As the pandemic rages on, people around the world have sought to guard against disease by turning to so-called halo foods. While scientists have dismissed many claims on social media about how superfoods can fend off the virus, their positive role as part of healthy eating is widely recognized.

As demand for halo foods increases, prices for ginger in Nigeria and acai berry in Brazil have jumped while exports of Indian turmeric and Chinese garlic have surged in the past year.

“The demand for ginger is high because they are using it as a medicine,” Imam said, adding that during the lockdown, she had boiled ginger with turmeric and garlic to take it as a remedy.

Increasingly health-conscious consumers have given new impetus to an already vibrant global spice market during the pandemic, increasing investor interest in the sector.

Singaporean company Olam International (OLAM.SI) finalized the purchase of leading US spice maker Olde Thompson last month while Norwegian company Orkla (ORK.OL) took a majority stake in Indian exporter of Eastern Condiments spices in March.

In Nigeria, a 50kg bag of ginger, which can help the body keep germs away and is used as a remedy for colds, now sells for 15,000 naira ($ 39), up from 4,000 to 6,000 naira ago. is two years old.

Thanks to the ginger rush, Imam was able to start building a new house in nearby Millennium City, with a small warehouse attached to be able to store and sell fresh ginger, which costs more than when it was cut. and dried.

Prices started to rise last year, but since January they have taken off due to demand linked to the pandemic, said Florence Edwards, national president of the Ginger Growers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria.

She said there had been demand from all over the world, citing India, China and Europe as popular markets.

“PEOPLE HAVE JUST BECOME NUTS”

There has also been an increase in demand for Acai, an antioxidant-rich fruit touted as a super food. The Amazonian state of Para in Brazil is the largest producing region in the world.

Paulo Lobato, a 52-year-old acai grower and trader in Para, has had to withhold part of his harvest for longtime customers, with supplies unable to keep pace with growing demand.

Prices were 53% higher in April compared to the same period last year at 4.14 reais (78 cents) per kg, according to the state export federation CIN / Fiepa.

“I have worked with Acai for 32 years and have never seen anything like it,” Lobato said. “During the pandemic, people went mad.”

Para is responsible for over 90% of Brazil’s acai production, which thrives in its moist soil and constant heat.

The round purple fruit is mainly produced by families, cooperatives organizing the harvests. Lobato has 20 working families on his farms with whom he shares half the income.

Acai is part of the Amazonian culinary tradition, consumed as an accompaniment to fried fish and usually at lunch and dinner. However, as export demand increased, the fruits became more difficult to find in local markets.

“Local consumers are the first to be affected,” said Florence Serra, of the Brazilian food supply and statistics agency Conab. “Some people went to the street fair and couldn’t find one.”

IMMUNITY BOOSTER

Like ginger, garlic contains components that can help the body repel insects and it is also in high demand. China exported 2.18 million tonnes of garlic bulbs in 2020, up 30% from the previous year, according to customs data, with major customers like Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia , Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Demand for spicy turmeric, which can help in the treatment of conditions involving pain and inflammation, has also received a pandemic boost.

Indian turmeric exports jumped 36% in 2020 to a record 181,664 tonnes and shipments continued to increase in 2021, climbing 10% in the first two months of the year to 24,813 tonnes, according to data compiled by the Indian Ministry of Commerce.

“The concept of immunity boosters is very influential nowadays not only in India but around the world and turmeric is a natural immunity booster,” said Abhijeet Banerjee, spice analyst at the Indian financial services company. Religare (RELG.NS).

“The government and Ayurvedic practitioners recommend consuming a certain amount of turmeric daily for better post-COVID management,” he said, referring to traditional Indian medicine.

Turmeric futures have risen more than 30% so far in 2021 and hit a five-year high of 9,522 Indian rupees ($ 130) per 100 kg in March.

Farmers like Ravindra Dere, who grows turmeric on two acres in the western state of Maharashtra, are happy.

“After many years we are making a decent profit. I hope the prices will remain firm,” he said.

Back in Kaduna, Nigeria, Hebile Abu sees no end to the ginger rush. He is the commercial manager of a company that provides loans, fertilizers and tractors to a cooperative of about 1,500 small farms and then markets their crops.

“No matter how many tons you have, they will buy it,” he said. “People come for it and they can’t have it.”

($ 1 = 381,000 naira)

($ 1 = 73.3090 Indian rupees)

($ 1 = 5.3157 reais)

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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