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Pomegranates Are Symbolic Even for Trade

pomegranates

Pomegranates Are Symbolic Even for Trade

613 Seeds

It’s the Jewish New Year, a time for introspection and atonement and of course every Jewish holiday has its food customs. Celebrants dip apples in honey to symbolize hopes for a sweet year ahead. Pomegranates also figure in celebrations at this time of year. Its many seeds are associated with the 613 commandments in the Torah. Before eating the pomegranate seeds, Jews traditionally say, “May we be as full of mitzvot (commandments) as the pomegranate is full of seeds.”

The pomegranate is one of the seven species of Israel listed in the Torah, along with grapes, figs and dates. They’ve been cultivated throughout the Middle East for thousands of years and remain a staple in the cuisine. Outside the United States, consumers can enjoy dozens of varieties, from those with sweeter pink seeds to yellow-green Golden Globes. The only kind I’ve ever seen in my grocery store are the ruby red Wonderful variety, which make up 90 to 95 percent of the U.S. market.

Ancient and Modern Purveyor of Good Fortune

Pomegranates are drought tolerant so they can grow in tropical to warm climates, but they do best in regions with cool winters and hot, dry summers. They thrive throughout Latin America, southern Europe, Asia, Africa and Fresno, California. Due to this heartiness, there’s almost always a season for pomegranates somewhere in the world and – thanks to trade – we can enjoy them nearly all year-round. Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved imports of Peruvian-grown pomegranates, which U.S. retailers say won’t compete directly with California production because they’ll be harvested and shipped as California’s season ends.

Known to be a good source of antioxidants and vitamin C, pomegranates are more popular than ever, finding their way into juices, fruit strips and other processed foods. Higher demand has been especially great for exporters from developing countries. Pomegranate exports are even playing a role in moving farmers in Afghanistan from opium poppy or coca farms to growing legal as well as profitable crops.

Where efforts to shift into other crops have failed, the pomegranate holds promise. Afghan varietals are prized for being especially delicious, creating demand for Afghan farmers to supply pomegranates to buyers around the world. Last year, Afghan farmers exported nearly 23,000 tons of pomegranates, up 35 percent over the previous year. Non-profit organizations have provided startup seeds and planted hundreds of thousands of pomegranate saplings in Afghan fields. If successful, Afghan producers could also move into finished products like fruit bars. More than a symbol, pomegranates are a tangible vehicle for renewal in Afghanistan.

Global Seed Trade

Sowing Trade Seeds

Although pomegranates no longer seem “exotic” to us, Americans are increasingly open to trying new varieties of fruits and vegetables in pursuit of innovative flavors, in response to health trends, and out of affinity for local growers who often produce heirloom and other varieties we can’t find in the grocery store. To enjoy a variety of foods – and importantly, to sustain basic crop production – growers must have access to a variety of high-quality seeds.

Founded in 1883, the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) represents over 700 companies involved in seed production, plant breeding and related industries in North America. According to ASTA, a seed can cross up to six borders between the breeder to the farmer who plants it in the field. The United States exported $1.8 billion in seeds in 2017, $610 million of which went to Canada and Mexico.

The global seed market was an estimated $66.9 billion in 2018 and expected to reach $98.1 billion by 2024. According to the International Seed Federation, the Eastern European countries of Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland are the largest exporters of seeds for field crops after France and the United States.
Food supply and seed trade

Good Genes

Despite a robust seed trade, the Food and Agriculture Organization worries about the steady loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture. Through a network of more than 1,750 gene banks, the Global Crop Diversity Trust supports a global seed conversation system to ensure a diversity of genetic resources from the ancient, traditional and heirloom varieties to the raw genetic material needed to breed nutrition-packed, high yield, weather- and pest-resistant modern crops.

Seeds can be made available from the gene banks to help farmers recover from natural disasters. After Hurricane Maria devasted 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s crop value, farmers turned to the Tropical Agriculture Research Station run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for seeds and tree grafts to replenish their farms.

One of the largest seed collections resides in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, nestled inside a mountain on an island halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. It houses over 983,500 seeds with room to conserve 4.5 million varieties.
Svalbard
Seed conservation is about more than saving for a rainy day. Food production around the world depends on the availability and international trade in seeds. According to the Global Crop Diversity Trust, many countries strongly depend on crops whose genetic diversity originates from foreign regions, both in their food supply and in their production systems.

So while we should all be thankful that gene banks preserve our food heritage, it’s the free movement of seeds in trade that helps protect today’s food production and supply. Now, if we can only get the stores to carry those Golden Globe pomegranates.

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Andrea Durkin is the Editor-in-Chief of TradeVistas and Founder of Sparkplug, LLC. Ms. Durkin previously served as a U.S. Government trade negotiator and has proudly taught international trade policy and negotiations for the last fourteen years as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

honey

HONEY BEES POLLINATE TRADE OPPORTUNITIES

Harvesting season in the Central Valley

Stretched across some 500 miles throughout California’s Central Valley, almond hulls are splitting open, signaling the beginning of harvesting season.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting that California’s almond growers are set to produce a bumper crop this year of about 2.5 billion pounds, about 70 percent of which will be exported around the world.

It’s an industry that drives about one-quarter of California’s farm exports and generates about $21.5 billion in economic output for the region including growing, processing and manufacturing activities.

A productive crop must be nourished

California is blessed with the perfect climate for almond production, but it must import one of its most important ingredients: pollinators for the almond blooms.

Every February, two out of every three commercial bee hives in the United States are transported to California, their bee residents pressed into service of the almond bloom.

In fact, it’s just the start of an annual food pollinating bee tour. Anywhere from 60 to 75 percent of the bee population kept as livestock crisscross the United States foraging on the blooms of crops that will eventually make their way into our grocery stores and into overseas markets.

Pollinated crop acreage

First stop, almond orchards

For most commercial bees, the pollinating season begins with almonds, California’s largest crop. To provide a sense of scale, Scientific American estimates it takes some two million hives – more than 31 billion honeybees – to pollinate the Central Valley’s 90 million almond trees during their two-week bloom. It’s a symbiotic relationship: the bees gather nectar and pollen to feed their colonies, enabling them to triple their population.

Once almonds bloom in January, hives are moved to other spring-blooming orchards such as cherries and plums in California or apples in the Pacific Northwest. Some head to Texas to pollinate squashes, others to citrus fruit orchards in Florida, and others are dispatched to pollinate cranberries in Wisconsin and cherries in Michigan.

In all, these busy bee travelers pollinate over 90 different crops and then sweeten the deal by shifting into delicious honey production by the end of summer, which they will nourish themselves on over winter while we get to consume the rest. Americans consume a staggering 1.6 pounds of honey per person every year. Even though U.S. beekeepers produced 148 million pounds of honey in 2017 and exported 9.9 million pounds, we imported 447.5 million pounds to keep up with demand from consumers and food producers.

Mobile beehive on trucks
Millions of bees are “exported” state to state to pollinate 90 different American crops.

One in every three bites of food

From cucumbers and citrus fruits to watermelon, kiwis, berries, cherries, apples, melons, peaches, figs, tomatoes, pumpkins and almonds, one-third of the U.S. food supply relies on pollination by the hard-working honey bee.

And, of course, since the United States is a major exporter of agricultural crops, we could say that honey bees help pollinate our trade opportunities. That’s true globally for hundreds of billions worth of crop production and internationally traded food that depends on pollinators.

$15 billion in value for 90 crops

Healthy bees, healthy trade in food

When bees get sick, the health of the U.S. agriculture economy and agricultural exports is imperiled.

Although honey bees are not the only pollinators supporting U.S. agriculture, they are the most important, adding more than $15 billion in value to U.S. agricultural crops each year according to the U.S. Pollinator Health Task Force.

Colony collapse disorder over the last few years drew widespread attention, but the decline in North American honey bees is a long-term trend. In 1947, there were about six million colonies but today we are down to about 2.5 million.

Sharp declines were seen following the introduction in 1987 of an external parasitic mite, aptly named Varroa destructor, that feeds on the blood of honey bees. Loss rates over the winter have been averaging around 31 percent since 2006, far exceeding the 15-17 percent that commercial bee keepers say is economically sustainable.

The rise of monoculture agriculture with increased reliance on pesticides and reduced use of cover crops is thought to add stress on bee health. The bees are struggling to maintain a varied and high-quality diet – they need protein from pollen and carbohydrates from the nectar of flowering plants. Without adequate nutrition, they are also more vulnerable to viruses.

1 in 3 bites

Experts have organized into research consortia, working groups and task forces to try to determine what can be done. The factors negatively impacting bee health are multiple, complex, and interacting, requiring a similarly comprehensive approach to combat them, including restoration of habitats, dissemination of best practices in hive management, and investments in research to better understand how to prevent colony loss.

We are all invested in their success, and when you see honey bees buzzing around your garden this summer, think about the humble but essential role their busywork plays in U.S. food production and agricultural exports.

This article is adapted from “Honey Bee Health is Serious Business” by Andrea Durkin for Progressive Economy.

Andrea Durkin is the Editor-in-Chief of TradeVistas and Founder of Sparkplug, LLC. Ms. Durkin previously served as a U.S. Government trade negotiator and has proudly taught international trade policy and negotiations for the last fourteen years as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.