15.01.2016

Organic Range Expands

For the first time in New Zealand

Certified Organic Molasses  - Organic NZ January/February 2016

For the first time in New Zealand, organic molasses has become available as a certified soil and foliage input. Previously, organic non-certified and standard molasses were acceptable as soil and foliage inputs in otherwise organic products because a consistent bulk organic supply didn’t exist. The new supply through Natural Sugars is covered under a variety of international certifying bodies adding significant value to manufacturing exporters.

Molasses, which is a by-product of the sugar refining process, has been used for decades to boost soil and plant health, and to provide animals (such as cattle), and humans, with high quality minerals and nutrients.

Organic and Fair Trade

Organic sugar is typically grown in poorer countries such as Indonesia, Brazil, Thailand, Paraguay, Uruguay, India, Tanzania. Sugar cane grows well in these areas with little requirement for inputs except labour. This makes it an ideal organic crop and it’s often grown under Fair Trade agreements which support economically struggling areas.

Stuart Fraser of Natural Sugars explains. “When growers adhere to Fair Trade programmes they are paid a premium of $US80 per metric tonne of product. We purchase organic sugar and molasses from a Society (collective) in India which has been in a Fair Trade programme for six years. It has now earned sufficient money to build a trading centre, which is effectively a large shop, but means they can trade more efficiently. Farmers and their families also get better education which gives them opportunities to improve their lives.”

Sugar Cane farming in India

Wanting to be certain the Fair Trade agreements for which they were paying a premium were being met, Fraser visited Karnataka, in South Western India. He says, “It was organic alright. There is very little money so sugar cane is farmed using wooden implements, ploughs and carts. The cane matures in 6-8 months depending on regional rainfall.  Each farm is an acre. There’s no money for sprays so farms have low inputs. 

“One of the most fascinating things was the man in charge of planting and harvesting the crop. He physically walks around a hundred farms (100 acres), and instructs each farmer, ‘you will plant on the first half of this week, you will plant in the second half of that week,’ and so on. The planting, growing and harvesting process is managed completely by this man, and is based on his intimate knowledge of the entire acreage. He knows which areas grow better, how capable each farming family is, how far away they are, and other factors.  Once the cane has been processed, the left over biological matter which they call mud, is organised by the same man and transported free to each farmer to rebalance the soil, with the richest matter going to the farms on which the land most needs it.  It’s absolutely ingenious watching this guy applying his knowledge of each farm, and each bit of land. Mangos are also grown in this area, and chillis, harvested into brightly coloured piles taller than a man.

“The most beautiful coloured earth extends as far as you can see – deep burnt red, but darker, like dried blood, and completely free of chemicals”.

Organic Pest Control

Pest control on Indian organic plots is managed by non-chemical means, from plant decoctions mixed with water and a soap solution, to neem kernel extracts, and garlic-chili-ginger extracts for leaf eating caterpillars and borers. Aphids, green plant hoppers, mealy bugs and white fly are managed through several means, including hand-picking larvae in a small crop area, light traps, yellow sticky traps, bird perches placed amongst the crop to bring birds which rest and feed on larvae, and neem leaf preparations which produce a repellent odour.

 

Light traps consist of a hurricane lamp or electric light bulb to attract the moths which fall into a large dish holding water and kerosene placed near the light. Yellow sticky traps consist of castor oil smeared over empty yellow tins or plates placed in the field. White flies are attracted to and get trapped on the plates which are wiped out every day and castor oil re-applied.

Since the change of government, doing business in India has been easier but some unique parameters have to be negotiated such as frequent religious festivals which affect production. India also has a unique process by which it authorises export product. The government first determines that there is sufficient food for the population and then advises how much surfeit it will allow to be exported. The producer must then attract a confirmed order, after which they are required to apply for an authority to export.

Although the organic sugar sector is still small on a global scale, its market share continues to grow. Natural Sugars imports 1000-litre pallecons (IBCs) of organics molasses and decants it in food grade conditions into 20 kg containers.

Molasses - food for microbes

As a soil input, molasses is used to feed effective micro-organisms (EM). With a food source, microbes (usually bacterial) are stimulated to multiply. They become food for protozoa which produce all important nitrogen, and in the soil they mine minerals, breaking them down into plant available form.

If it’s good for the soil, it’s good for the plants, and for us.

Theresa Sjoquist is a freelance writer based in Helensville www.theresasjoquist.com