Unobtainable Commodity: Australia’s Ginger Industry

Australia is being targeted as a key export market for mature ginger from Fiji, as the first consignment of 20 tonnes left earlier this month.

Poor production yields in recent years caused by disease problems and bad weather has placed significant pressure on Australian growers, some of which have indicated that a continuation of these conditions would force them to leave the industry.

However, both growers and processors alike believe the importation of fresh ginger poses a key risk for the industry due to threats of introducing more virulent strains of existing diseases such as bacterial wilt or new diseases such as Radopholus nematode.

In comparison to Australian ginger, imported ginger has two key disadvantages—inconsistencies in flavour and high amounts of chemical residues.

This was evidenced on the Sunshine Coast during the 1960s when seed was imported from Thailand and introduced an outbreak of bacterial wilt to the region. As a consequence, certain areas on the Sunshine Coast are no longer farmable.

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The change comes after the Australian Department of Agricultural, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) issued its Risk Analysis Report for Fresh Ginger from Fiji earlier this year, investigating the ginger’s biosecurity conditions.

In 2007, two officers from Biosecurity Australia visited Fiji on a fact-finding mission, documenting the production pathway and observing the entry of 27 quarantine pathogens and nematodes.

Based on observations, the ginger production systems were deemed to adequately mitigate the pest and pathogen risks with ginger.

This approach includes a hot water treatment of the seed material to eliminate any nematode and bacterial concerns, as well as further quality control measures by the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji.

Farmers participating in the export program would then be registered under a similar scheme implemented for fresh pawpaw exports to Australia.

After years of consultation and exchanges of information, on August 10th this year, DAFF issued a statement permitting Fiji market access for ginger.

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In recent years, Australian ginger processors have imported over 400 tonnes annually of Chinese and Fijian ginger in semi-processed form, due to the inability of domestic growers to meet demand for the Buderim Ginger factory.

Craig Todd from Buderim Ginger believes that the Fijian imports will create hard times for the “Aussie farmer”, despite Buderim having used processed Fijian ginger for years.

“We use fresh ginger only from Australian farmers, but with the increase of competitiveness and soil health within a 100km radius of crops, imported fresh ginger will no doubt cause issues with the industry,” Mr Todd said.

The two main varieties of ginger grown and exported from Fiji are the premium quality red and white ‘Canton’ varieties, predominately used for fresh market consumption.

In the past, Australian ginger growers have exported fresh ginger directly to New Zealand and Japan; however, currently there are no growers exporting directly to overseas markets.

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Secretary of the Australian Ginger Growers Association Shane Templeton is one of the many farmers doubting the DAFF’s risk assessment.

“We’ve worked very hard to decrease disease. Templeton [Farming] has just expanded its crop, and we’re going to a lot of trouble for new equipment and spreading the work load to keep it clean – so you can see our situation when Fiji can come in with god-knows on it,” Mr Templeton said.

“I don’t think they [DAFF] even have the science to know what’s there.”

Chief Plant Protection Officer Dr Vanessa Findlay defends the import risk analyses in a DAFF press release, saying the department has consulted with industry and state governments to ensure appropriate management of potential risks.

“The Australian economy benefits strongly from our commitment to encouraging safe trade with other nations, helping Australian producers access the world’s markets for both the inputs they need to remain productive and competitive and also to sell their produce,” Dr Findlay said.

Major supermarket retailer Woolworths source ginger from Australian farmers, as part of the Australia Made campaign.

This is not comparable to other seasonal produce, but can be predicted to continue after the first set of exports arrive in Australia.

Supermarket rival Coles is inconsistent throughout stores and could not provide a clear answer to imported or Australian sourcing of fresh ginger.

However, from asking individual Coles stores in South-East Queensland, majority bared the label ‘Product of Australia’.

Fiji currently export more than 830 000kg of ginger worth about $6 million annually.

Director extension of the Ministry of Agriculture in Fiji, Vatimi Rayalu says the recent green light to have Fiji’s ginger exported to Australia means that everyone has to play their part in ensuring nothing goes wrong.

“The ginger protocol to Australia was a recent development. It took us about thirteen years to negotiate. We will be treading very carefully in terms of the supplying of ginger to this market given that Australia has zero tolerance to breach of any quarantine conditions,” Mr Rayalu said.

Mr Rayalu adds they are also educating farmers.

“Preparations are already underway in terms of the training of farmers in understanding the requirements under the pathway. And there are some other things to sort out with our Australian counterparts in terms of fumigation procedures.”

This is a major feat for Fiji as they will be the first country to export to Australia, and will give confidence and incentive for Fijian farmers to grow the crop.

In a press conference in August, Chief Executive Officer of the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji Elvis Silvestrini said this will not only bring substantial benefits for farming communities and families of Fiji, but will also bring in more foreign exchange into the country.

“We are currently having bilateral talks with our pacific neighbours as well as Australia and New Zealand and others further afield to improve market access and are hopeful of opening more niche markets by the end of the year,” said Mr Silvestrini.

For the University of Queensland

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