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....You are here: Home >Market information > Tropical commodities and their markets > Commodities C2
C part 2 DIRECTORY OF COMMODITIES
COCHINEAL (also known as Carmine Red)
Cochineal is a red dye made from the dried bodies of the pregnant females of the species of insect Dactoylopius coccus which feeds on the cactus Napalea cochinillifera. It is only produced commercially in Peru, which produces about 200 tonnes per year, and the Canary Islands, which produce only about 30 tonnes per year.
Cochineal pigments are used to dye cloth, but synthetic dyes have eroded this use for the product and now it is mainly employed as a safe natural colouring agent for food and cosmetics.
It is used to colour a very wide range of foods including fish, sausages and pies, jams and jellies and drinks. It is added to food on an industrial scale but also in the domestic kitchen, usually in solution form. The pharmaceutical industry uses cochineal to colour pills and ointments. It is one of the very few dyes that can be safely used around the eyes and so can be used in cosmetics for the face.
It takes 70,000 insects to produce a single Ib of cochineal. Put another way, the population of insects required for annual consumption of cochineal is six times the world’s human population.
The insects are gathered by small groups of collectors who sell them to local processors or exporters. The insects are knocked, brushed or picked off the plant and killed either by immersion in hot water (after which they are dried) or by exposure to the sun. The immersion technique produces silver grains known as Grey cochineal.
The insects must be dries to about 30 per cent of their original body weight before they can be stored without decaying.
It is becoming more common for the production of carminic acid, the essential dye ingredient in cochineal, to be carried out locally rather than in the countries of consumption. The dried insects and extracts must conform to the buyer’s specification for very low maximum levels of bacteria
The trend towards using natural products, especially as food additives offers the cochineal market a very good opportunity to expand. There are other, synthetic dyes that can be used as substitutes at lower prices. No matter how safe artificial dyes are made, however, the public still remains suspicious of their risk to health.
Supplies are very dependent on the weather. Poor weather in Peru in 1994/5 caused a shortage of the product which, according to some traders, was exacerbated by the withholding of shipments by Peruvian exporters. The resultant price increase may encourage more use of synthetic substitutes, at least in the short term.
France is believed to be the world’s largest importer of cochineal, but Japan and Italy are also important direct importers. A high proportion of these imports are reexported in processed form, mainly to other developed economies.
The value of the product is determined by its carminic acid content. The standard cochineal extract contains 60 percent carminic acid, which has increased in price from about US$100 per kilo in 1993 to US$300 per kilo in 1995.
1992 Main producing countries (thousands of tonnes)
Dominican Republic 46
World total 2329
Source: FAO estimates
Cocoa beans are graded according to quality. A variety of defects detract from their quality and market value. Terms describing such defects include:
- Slatey – a pale colour of the bean when cut, indicating that it is not properly fermented and, consequently, has an inferior flavour.
- Germinated – these beans are susceptible to insect damage.
- Flat – as the name implies.
Cocoa bean standards specify the maximum percentage of defective beans permitted in a given delivery. The international grade standards specify:
- Grade I: 3 per cent moisture, per cent slately, 3 per cent damage, germinated or flat
- Grade II: 4 per cent moisture, 8 per cent slately, per cent insect damage, germinated or flat.
The coca Association of London standards specify:
- Good Fermented: 5 percent slately, 5 per cent other defects.
- Fair fermented: 10 per cent slately, 10 percent other defects.
The Foreseros types of cocoa, from West Africa and Brazil and hybrids from Malaysia, are known as ‘bulk’ cocas, which make up 80 per cent of the market. ‘Fine and flavour’ types (usually the criollos variety) are grown in the Caribbean, Venezuela, Java, Samoa and papua New Guinea.
The major consuming countries by percentage of total consumption are USA 24 per cent, Germany 10 per cent, France 6 per cent, UK 6 per cent, Japan 5.5 per cent (average figures for 1985-90).
For chocolates, chocolate drinks and confectionery. Some is used in the cosmetics industry.
Cocoa is derived from the cocoa bean, the seed of a tree, which grows up to 8 metres high between 20 degrees N and 20 degrees S of the equator. Between 15 and 40 cocoa beans are contained in a pod, which grows out of the trunk and main branches of the tree. Cocoa trees begin to bear fruit after 4 or 5 years, reach maturity in 10-14 years and continue for 30 –40 years.
In South America and Caribbean cocoa is grown on plantations, but in West Africa it is grown on small farms.
Although pods are produced all year round, harvesting usually takes place in two seasons. The pods are cut off the trees and opened by hand. The beans are then fermented, which involves putting them in heaps or baskets. The slime that surrounds the beans in the pods encourages yeast growth in the heap. As the temperatures rises the seeds are killed, and this initiates the chemical changes that are required for the flavour to develop. The beans are then dried, to protect them from mould. They often need to be fumigated (purged with fumes of insecticide to protect from insect or other infestation) before they are permitted to leave the country of origin. Cocoa beans are normally packed in 62.5 kg jute sacks, which must be carefully stored in fully ventilated warehouses.
The main harvesting season in West Africa is November to March, with a minor crop or temporos available some time between May and October. (Different weather in the minor season affects both quality and yield, but new hybrid varieties have improved both.)
Traditional varieties produce productive pods after four to six years, but hybrid plants become productive after only two to three years.
Main market features
The International Cocoa Organisation, ICCO, was set up in 1972 to administer the international cocoa Agreement, the main aims of which are to stabilise the world cocoa market. ICCO also disseminates information and acts as a forum for exporting and importing countries.
Cocoa prices reached their lowest levels for 15 years in the 1991/2 season and by 1995 prices were still below a 30-year mean. These low prices caused a reduction in the care of cocoa trees and the abondonment of cocoa groves in some growing regions. Cocoa is affected by weather and by many diseases, including ‘pod borer disease’, which seems to affect Indonesia production most, ‘witches broom’, which is prevalent in Brazil, and ‘black pod disease’, which tends regularly to ruin a proportion of the West African crop. A reduction of production in some areas owing to these factors, combined with an increase in demand in some consumer countries, lifted prices in 1995 and enabled ICCO to reduce its very large buffer stocks. In February 1995 these stood at 150,000 tonnes, but being sold at the rate of 4250 tonnes a month. Higher global demand has been tempered by a fall in demand from the former Soviet Union.
The success that coffee producers have had in controlling production has influenced cocoa producers. Producing countries have decided to ‘manage production’ and have proposed to reduce output by 375,000 tonnes by 1998/99 and obtain what they believe to be a reasonable price of between US$2500 and 2800 per tonne. By early 1995, however , the producers had not yet come up with an agreed plan for achieving these aims.
Of all EU countries only UK, Irish Republic and Denmark are at present permitted to use up to 5 per cent vegetable oil in their chocolate, but some other EU countries want the same right. This proposition is strongly opposed by the cocoa-producing countries and by some major chocolate dealers, who say that it will lead to a general reduction in the quality of chocolate and possible reduction of 200,000 tonnes in annual demand for cocoa.
Almost all major consumers purchase their supplies through the commodity market rather than directly from producers. By this means they can be certain of getting delivery of the type of cocoa they want on time and do need to pay for supplies until delivery.
London futures spot price, £ sterling per tonne:
1991 – 650, 1992 – 734, 1993 – 713, 1994 – 908, 1995 – 917.
(See also cocoa)
Cocoa butter is the fat contained in the cocoa bean. It is used, along with cocoa powder also obtained from the bean, to make chocolate and other chocolate confectionery. Up to 1 per cent of production is used in the cosmetics industry to make lipstick.
A proportion of cocoa beans are processed in the tropical countries where they are grown, but most are exported as beans. In the processing plant the roasted beans have their shells removed and are heated until they melt into liquid mass. Their ‘liquor’ is then pressed and filtered so that the yellowish cocoa butter is separated from the dark ‘cake’. The cake goes on to be milled into cocoa powder. The original cocoa bean contains about 20 per cent by weight of shell and other waste material. Of the remaining 80 per cent about half is cocoa butter and half is cocoa itself
Most cocoa bean-producing countries export what butter they produce in a clean filtered form known as ‘pure prime pressed’ or PPP. Butter in this form is reintroduced as an ingredient to cocoa products in many countries. In most developed countries, however, the chocolate makers wish to have total control over the final flavour of their products. For this reason they only buy PPP cocoa butter, which has been ‘fully deodorised’. This means that the butter has been treated with steam to remove most of the cocoa-like taste of the butter. Chocolate with a low cocoa butter content is cooking or plain chocolate. Milk chocolate also contains concentrated cows’ milk.
Very few cocoa producing countries are able to produce deodorised butter. Brazil, Malaysia and Peru have small plants.
Most international trade in PPP cocoa butter is conducted by the same traders that are involved in the trade in cocoa beans. They buy butter from producing countries and they sell it to processors who deodorise it in developed countries and they sell liquor and deodorised butter that has been produced in developed countries to other consuming countries.
The market price for cocoa butter tends to go up or down with the price of cocoa beans. The prices are linked by a ratio which may mean that at some particular time the price for PPP cocoa butter is 2.5 to market forces and , of course there will be premiums and discounts according to the quality and location of the two products.
(See coconut oil, coir, copra, desiccated coconut, jelly nut)
A large proportion of coconuts are used where they are grown but there is an important international trade in coconut products. The FAO estimates that world production of coconuts in 1992 was just over 41 million tonnes, which would equate to almost 50 billion coconuts.
1992 Main producers (thousands of tonnes)
Sri Lanka 1,750
Source: FAO estimates
Coconuts grow in a narrow tropical belt around the world. They are mainly cultivated by small holders in small groves near the sea.
Most coconut products are prepared for export in the country in which they are grown. The international trade in fresh coconuts is comparatively small. Nuts for this market must be dehusked, they should be free of cracks, they should contain a lot of milk (a good sign of freshness) and should show no signs of mould.
A coconut palm tree will yield about 50 nuts a year, but will take up to 5 or 6 years before producing nuts for about 60 years. The tree is propagated from the ripe, husked nut. The nut is laid on its side and almost covered in soil. It is transplanted about six mouths after germination.
The above list of cross references emphasises the tremendous usefulness of the coconut tree. Copra is the dried kernel of the nut, which yields coconut oil. Coir is the outer husk of the nut, which is an important natural fibre. The shell of the nut is used for fuel and it can be used to make activated carbon. The trunk of the tree is used for building (porcupine wood), the leaves are used as thatch and the fresh nut is, of course, an important food source.
Two minor coconut products are activated carbon and cocos. Activated carbon is a processed type of charcoal, which can be produced from the shell of the nut. The material has a very high surface area to bulk ratio and is highly porous and absorptive. It is used to remove colour or impurities from liquids and gases, in the recovery of solvents. A large quantity is used in the gold refining industry. About 40 tonnes are used for every tonne of gold produced. The carbon must then be ‘activated’ by heating in a steam atmosphere in a specific furnace to between 900 and 1000 degrees C. Activated carbon is worth several hundred US dollars a tonne, but its exact value depends very much on its location.
Cocos is the fibrous dust left behind after removing the husk (coir) from the nut. It is used as an alternative to peat as a growing medium or mulch, especially for potted plants. Most developed countries import the product. It has been estimated that the Netherlands alone imports about 15,000 tonnes per year. It must be pressed into loose blocks to reduce its bulk for shipment.
Toddy, a local alcoholic drink, can be produced by fermenting sweet sap of the tree, and the soft bud cut from the top of the tree is used as a salad vegetable known as palm cabbage.
In early 1995 the wholesale price for fresh coconuts from Santa Domingo on the London market was 49 UK pence per kilo.
Coffea arabica and coffea canphora (robusta)
1992 Main producing countries (thousands of tonnes, green coffee)
Ivory Coast 240
Costa Rica 168
Source: FAO estimates
The main distinction is made between the two species of coffee – arabica and robusta. Arabica is said to be a higher quality product and it commands a higher price in the market.
The quality of the green (unroasted bean is judged by taste. The tasters, or liquorers as they are known, taste sample cups of coffee. They look for a variety of different positive and negative aspects to the taste. These include the richness and smoothness of flavour as wall as bitter or unpleasant tastes caused by the presence of various types of diseased, overfermented of defective beans (some known as ‘stinkers’) in the sample. A count of the number of defective beans in a sample is another measure of quality.
The quality of the beans depends very much on the soil, climate and height above sea level of the area where they are grown. For this reason coffees from particular regions of particular countries have become known for their special qualities. The quality of all coffees can be much improved by careful harvesting and processing and by picking out defective beans. Here uniformity is important to ensure even roasting. Larger and more solid beans are preferred.
As most branded coffees are blended to produce a uniform taste year in and year out, buyers often have very particular qualities in mind when choosing their purchases. Different consuming countries prefer different qualities in their coffee and different degrees of roasting. Roasting (as well as blending and packaging is, therefore, usually carried out in consuming countries.
About 15 to 20 per cent of all coffee is drunk in the instant form. Almost all of it, especially the freeze-dried type, is also produced in developed countries.
Some major coffee-producing countries, such as those in East Africa, are very minor consumers of the product. By contrast, Brazil consumes about 10 per cent of world coffee production. The EU and the USA are the largest markets for coffee. Japan is also a major importer. Some rich Japanese consumers specialise in buying rare, high grown coffees, which command a large premium over other varieties.
Almost all coffee is used as a beverage, but some to flavour ice-cream and many types of confectionery.
The coffee bush would be a small tree if it were pruned regularly to keep it small enough for easy picking. Coffee must be grown at a minimum elevation of about 500 metres at 15 degrees of latitude. It must be grown in tropical regions and is sensitive to frost, high winds, lack of rainfall and too much direct sunlight. The bush produces white, fragrant flowers followed by cherry-sized berries, which are picked when dark red and fully ripe.
The berries must be picked as soon as they become ripe to retain quality. They are then usually taken to a preparation area where they are prepares in one of two ways.
In the ‘washed process’, used mainly for arabica coffee, the fresh berry has its flesh or pulp removed mechanically immediately after harvesting. The beans, which are the seeds inside the berry, are then fermented in water to remove the mucilage arouns the seed. After fermentation the beans are washed and then laid in the sun to dry. A skin or parchment (sometimes referred to as a pergaminoskin) surrounds the bean at this stage and this is removed mechanically.
In the ‘dry process’, used mainly for robusta and Brazilian arabica, the whole berry is first sun-dried, then the dry pulp and the parchment are removed together in a single milling processs.
The beans must then be graded by size using shaking sieves and meticulously picked over by hand to remove foreign bodies and small, diseased and broken beans.
Coffee bushes yield their first crop in the third year after planting and continue to bear fruit for about 40 years. Up to three gatherings of the beans can be made each year.
Coffee is traded in 60 kg jute or sisal bags.
Main market features
The coffee market is one of the largest commodity markets. The recent history of the coffee market is an object lesson on the way in which poor producing countries need to cooperate with each other if they wish to influence in their favour the markets for the goods they produce.
Until 1989 there was an international consensus that the coffee market should be organised in the interests of both producers and consumers. Countries representing both these interests were signatories of International Coffee Agreement (ICAs) which kept prices within an agreed range of stocks off the market in times of glut and selling stocks on the market if prices became too high. Although not all consuming countries were signatories to these agreements, they worked well for several decades. In 1989, however, the economic clauses of the 1983 agreement were suspended.
The suspension of these clauses followed a radical change in economic philosophy during the 1980s, particularly by the United States and UK governments. These governments believed that the free market should decide the price of commodities. The withdrawal of this consumer support for an organised coffee market helped to exacerbate disagreement among producers over their respective share of different markets and in all meaning fell ways, the ICA ended. The price, which was already low, sank to historically low levels. For most part, these savings were not passed on to individual consumers bur were retained by the major coffee companies who dominate the market.
Unlike tea, nearly all coffee is grown by smallholders, often on tiny patches of land. Such producers are unable to start growing some other cash crops that they know nothing about and often have to increase coffee production to earn the same income if international prices fall. In other words, the laws of supply and demand are suspended in the case of the coffee market.
For five years these already poor farmers had to endure lower and prices (in August 1992 prices for arabica in New York traded at 50 US cents a pound) as their governments continued to avoid taking any initiative to reduce cut-throat competition between suppliers. An unregulated market favoured the giant multinational companies who dominate the trade and who are interested in cheap supplies of raw material.
Finally, in 1994 the association of Coffee producing Countries got together to agree a voluntary scheme wherby each country would agree to retain coffee and thus reduce international supplies. At first members were to withhold 20 per cent of their production from the market until the price reached 75 US cents per Ib. Once that price was reached the retention percentage was reduced to 10. Traders were understandably sceptical at first since several other producers’ initiatives had come to nothing. But soon traders and consumers realised that the producers were serious about their scheme and the market price rose dramatically, boosted somewhat by poor growing weather in Brazil.
The retention scheme is quite modest and has a target price of US$1.5 per Ib. (It is said that the demand for coffee would not fall significantly unless the price rose to above US$5 per Ib.) Some observers believe that the retention of stocks as a means of keeping prices high will encourage overproduction and that, eventually, the stocks will be sold, causing the price to plummet. They say that destroying surplus production is the only answer. True or not, the producers of cocoa are looking at a similar scheme to balance supply in their market too.
The very low coffee price and the effect it was having on poor coffee producers caused concern among coffee consumers in some developed countries. This led to the establishment of some ‘fairly traded’ brands such as Cafedirect in the UK and Max Havelaar sponsored brands in the Netherlands, which guarantee a minimum price to farmers of US$1.20 per Ib and a price premium and other benefits when the international price exceeds US$1.20. Although sales of these brands have been encouraging, it can be seen that only international cooperation among coffee-producing countries and between coffee farmers’ associations can greatly influence the market.
Most coffee-consuming companies buy their supplies from merchants. In this way they do not risk the possibility of non-delivery and are certain to receive the quality of coffee they need. The coffee futures markets in London, Singapore and New York offer producers, consumers and traders hedging facilities, but are subject to speculative influences.
ICO other milds arabica, ex dock New York, US cents per Ib:
1991 – 88, 1992 – 74, 1994 – 75, 1995 – 176.
Coir is made from rough fibre which makes up the husk of the coconut. It is widely used locally for matting, ropes and brushes. Internationally it has lost much of its market to synthetic products. Coir is still the fibre used in the classic front door ‘welcome’ mat used to wipe your feet, however. Coir is also traditionally used to wrap around bed-springs in mattresses. The fibre maintains the solidity of the mattress and , unlike other similar natural fibres, it does not retain smells. The finer grades of yarn are often blended with other natural fibres, including sisal and jute, to make high quality carpets which have a good export market. Coir is increasingly being considered for use as a geotextile, a matting used to prevent soil erosion, as it can retain its integrity for up to 10 years after being buried in the ground. Its capacity to retain moisture makes its application as a geotextrile suitable for reclaiming desert areas.
New techniques are being introduced to the industry. Traditionally the husk of the nut is retted (semi-rotted) in water) for 10 months and then beaten with sticks to release the fibres which are then hackled (combed with a steel comb). This work was highly labour intensive and polluting. A new system has been developed, however, where unretted of only three days. Strickly speaking, coconut fibre does not become coir until it has been twisted into a rough cord. The short fibres and dust are discarded. One tonne of nuts yields about 150 kilos of coir.
The main coconut producers, Indonesia and the Philippines, hardly bother at all with coir production. India and Sri Lanka specialise in exporting the fibre, but even in these areas only a small proportion of the husks are processed into coir. India produces about 250,000 tonnes annually and exports around 40,000 tonnes per year, mainly to the EU and USA. World annual production is estimated to be about 350,000 metric tonnes. It is mainly in the more costly form of yarn, which has a range of uses, especially for carpets and matting.
Sri Lank baled coir, US$ per tonne, cif Europe”
1991 – 280, 1992 – 300, 1993 – 320, 1994 – 280, 1995 – 350.
COLA NUT (also known as kola nut)
Especially cola nitida and cola acuminata
The cola nut originates in Africa but is grown widely in the tropical regions of South and Central America.
The nut has very high caffeine content and is used locally (usually chewed) to combat fatique and hunger. It is also believed to be useful for curing hangovers. In some communities it is a medium of exchange.
Internationally, the main use of the nut is in soft, cola drinks and in some medicines.
There are four species of cola nut tree which grow very slowly to about 20 metres in height They take up to 20 years to come into full production.
The nut is normally collected from the wild but is being increasingly planted among orchards and especially as shade trees in coffee plantations.
Brassica campestris oleifera
Colza oil is found in the seeds of a brassica cultivated in India and Pakistan. (It can also be grown in temperate countries such as Canada and Europe.) It is removed by solvent extraction and is used as a ghee substitute and as a lubricant. The residue left after oil extraction is used for cattle feed.
The crude oil is dark and has an unpleasant taste and a characteristic smell. After refining the oil is pale yellow in colour and is tasteless and odourless.
(also known as Caesar weed)
The main use of congo jute is as an admixture to true jute for spun products. It is grown over the tropics but chiefly in Zaire, Brazil, and Madagascar. The fine, pale fibre is obtained from the bark of the stem of a bushy shrub, which grows up to 5 metres tall. It needs to be grown in better conditions than those in which kenaf is grown.
COPAL GUM (Also known as protium copal)
Especially Trachylobium verrucosum (Zanzibar) and Hymenaea coubaril (South America)
Copal is the name given to several gums used in India and China as a varnish and, in the West, as a varnish for oil paints. It ranges from colourless to bright yellowish brown. The most common commercial type, copal Zanzibar, is found in the ground as a fossil resin (similar to the way amber is found.). The resin came from the tree Tranchlobium verrucosum, but no such tress now exist in the part of East Africa where it is found.
Another copal gum is produced from living trees, especially of the Copaifera species, in parts of South America including Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico by local communities, and is used to make incense for religious ceremonies. The gum is a resin, which is gathered into a mass.
Although, no industrial uses for this gum have been exploited by the South Americans, some scientists have noted the medical properties claimed for it by local people and are examining these properties for a possible wider use.
There is very little known about international trade in copal gum, but a price of between US$2 and 3 per pound is regarded as the local going price.
copra is the dried kernel of the coconut, which contains about 70 per cent coconut oil (or coconut butter). Coconut oil differs from most other vegetable oils in that it passes from solid to liquid in a very narrow temperature range. Butter also has this characteristics, and, for this reason, coconut oil is often used as one of the ingredients for making the type of margarine that manufacturers want to resemble butter. It is also used in cooking fats, in chocolate, confectionery and salad dressing. Coconut oil is also used in some sun-tan lotions, soaps and shampoos.
The main production and export of copra and coconut oil are carried ot in the countries where coconuts are grown. World exports of coconut oil in 1994 were estimated to be 1,570,000 tonnes, with the Philippines supplying about 1 million tonnes and Indonesia exporting about one-quarter of that quantity.
1992 Main copra producers, estimated production (tonnes)
Sri Lanka 130,000
Paupa New Guinea 110,000
The kernels of the nut are either sun-dried or (preferably) dried in kilns. (Systems are now being developed to extract the oil from fresh kernels.) The oil extracted from the copra by using continuous screw presses (expellers).
After extraction the oil is refined to a colourless, odourless oil.
Filipino or Indonesia crude, cif Rotterdam, US$ per tonne:
1991 – 385, 1992 – 700, 1993 – 465, 1994 – 620, 1995 – 620.
This nut is a coconut no larger than a cherry. It is becoming popular in the USA as a cocktail nut and is being introduced to Europe. It is exported from Chile.
The dried seed of the coriander plant is a pleasant smelling spice. Most international trade is in the seed form, but the seed, leaves (sometimes called Chinese parsley), stalks and roots are used in different countries to flavour curry like dishes.
The central states of India are the world’s most important coriander-growing region. Other producers tend to be warm, temperate countries. In 1993 Indian production was about 7 per cent of this quantity owing to the massive local demand. Morocco and Bulgaria are aggressive exporters. Other exporters are Egypt, Argentina, Spain and Mexico. Total world exports are about 40,000 tonnes. Sri Lanka and Indonesia are major importers.
The coriander plant is an annual. The seeds are harvested from the withered flower heads before being dried and sieved. The crop is very vulnerable to changing weather conditions and the traditional sun-drying of the seeds allows them to be attacked by insects especially beetles.
The quality of the seeds is judged by aroma, flavour, appearance and uniformity of colour. The moisture content should be below 19 per cent and essential oil content should be above 1 per cent.
The sharp fall in prices during 1994 has been attributed to the sale of poor-quality stocks held by the former Soviet Union.
Moroccan seed, cif Europe, per tonne:
1991 - £315 sterling, 1992 - £470 sterling, 1993 - £650, 1994 – US$950, 1995 – US$650
Genus Gossypium, especially G. hirsutum and G barbadense
1992 main producing countries of seed cotton (thousands of tonnes)
Source countries, the USA, Uzbekistan and Pakistan are the major exporters.
One of the main factors affecting the price of cotton is the length of the fibre, known as the ‘staple’. Sea island cotton, produced in Barbados, Antigua, St Kitts and Montesrrat, has the longest staple, up to two inches long. (In recent years the market for very long cotton has shrunk appreciably.) The most common grades of cotton have a staple of about one inch.
Other important factors include colour (how white it is), the degree of foreign bodies, especially leaves, in the cotton and the quality of its preparation. In the US system, each of these three factors is summed up and divided into seven categories: Middling fair, Strict good middling, strict middling, Middling, low middling, Strict good ordinary and Good ordinary.
Strength (measured in grams per square cm) and fineness (measured in micrograms per inch) are also important.
The major importers are the EU, 20 per cent of world importers, Japan, 12 per cent, South Korea. Per cent and Taiwan, 4.6 per cent. Some of the largest producers, china, India and the former Soviet Union, are also some of the largest consumers.
The fibre is used mainly in textiles.
One cotton derivative is cotton seed oil, an important vegetable oil used in salad oils and margarine but also in paints, soaps and lubricants. Another is linters, which are the short fibres of cotton removed in the ginning process and which are almost pure cellulose. Linters are used to make felt and ‘cotton wool’ or sold to the chemical industry to make explosives and plastics.
The seed cake left over from the seeds after the oil extraction process is used to fee cattle.
Cotton is planted in the spring for autumn harvesting. The plant, which can reach 6 ft in height, produces a flower which drops after one or two days to leave a small pos or ‘boll’ which swells over about two months and then bursts to reveal the cotton fibre attached to the inside. The fibre is picked by hand or mechanically. This crop is termed ‘seed cotton’.
Once harvested, seed cotton is cleaned. Mechanically harvested cotton is much dirtier than hand-picked cotton and needs more cleaning. It is then processed through ginneries to remove the seed from the fibre and linters. The fibre is then packed in bales of 480 or 500 Ib (500 Ib bales are more common in the USA). Raw cotton can be stored up to 10 years.
Main market features
Cotton accounts for about 48 per cent of world fibre use. The current fashion for natural fibres has helped the cotton market compete with supplies of artificial fibres produced especially cheaply in the mills of South East Asia.
Turkey, Pakistan, India and china restrict exports to protect their textile industries.
Cotton is traded in several centres. Bremen and Milan are the main trading centres in Europe . Bombay is the main Asian centre, but cotton is also traded in Pakistan, Japan and Taiwan. The Liverpool cotton association offers an arbitration service to the trade. The authoritative futures market price is the New York Cotton exchange 50,000 Ib (100 bales) contract for low middling grades, one and one-sixteenth of an inch staple on delivered US warehouse basis.
US middling, one and one thirty-second of an inch, US cents per Ib, cif Liverpool:
1991 – 77, 1992 – 61, 1993 – 65, 1995 – 98
The courgette is mainly grown in temperate climates and is available all year in developed countries. It is normally packed in 3 to 5 kg boxes. Tropical exporters include Jamaica, Kenya and Zimbabwe.
In early 1995 the wholesale price for Moroccan courgettes on the London market was £7 sterling for a 5 kg carton.
COWPEA (also know as black-eye pea, yardlong bean, long bean.
The cowpea is closely related to the broad bean. It originated in Africa but is grown all over the tropics and subtropics. It can be grown in quite dry conditions but best in a humid tropical climate. It has been estimated that 95 per cent of cowpeas are grown in Africa, where it is a very important food crop and inexpensive source of protein. They are usually cooked and eaten with other vegetables in a soup, or ground into flour and made into cakes. Immature beans can be eaten as a vegetable and are preferred in this form by Chinese and other Asians. These immature beans are exported in very small quantities, to be consumed mainly by people of Asian origin, from Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Thailand in 5 kg cartons. They are eaten fresh in the USA where they are also frozen and canned. They are also used to feed livestock.
The largest producing countries are Nigeria with an estimated production of about 850,000 tonnes, Burkina Faso producing about 75,000 tonnes, followed by Uganda with about 50,000 tonnes. Cowpeas are also grown in India, Australia, the Caribbean and the USA, which produces about 20,000 tonnes. Almost all these crops are consumed in the country of origin.
The green pods are usually harvested by hand before the seeds are fully ripe, but they can be harvested mechanically. The seeds are usually dried to a maximum of 14 per cent moisture. Beans kept in dry conditions are less susceptible to contamination by aflatoxin and insect damage, to which cowpeas are very prone. They have been successfully fumigated with carbon tetrachloride.
In 1995 fresh cowpeas were retailing in London for £1.53 sterling per il.
Neem seed for export are gathered by small landowner and contract labourers and delivered to the processing plants. W R Grace has set up a plant in India to process 20 tonnes of neem tree a day for export to the USA. They have called the pesticides from neem ‘margosan-o’ and ‘Bioneem’.
Patented neem products have been commercially successful partly because they are ‘natural’and, therefore, seen as looked as being safe for the environment.
Owing to the interest of the new large buyers, the price of neem seed has increased from US$30 per tonne in 1973 to US$300 in 1992. The high price has prevented many local farmers from acquiring the seeds.
1989 World exports (tonnes)
Indonesia and Greneda export 95 per cent of nutmeg production. Other minor producing countries are Jamaica, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka and Trinida
Nutmeg is generally traded in the whole nut form. Nutmeg from Grenada is said to be of a higher quality.
Grades are first classified by size, ie the numer1Ib; 80s and 110s (80 and 110 to the pound) are typical size groups. Top-quality ‘sound but unsorted nuts are described as Suns. Sound nutmegs sink in water. Broken, or warmy or purky (crumbly nuts) known as BWPs are a catergory of defective nuts. Defective nuts are either crushed and ground or are used in the extraction of nutmeg.
Exports are mainly to developed countries.
Only about 10 per cent of production is used on a domestic scale, the rest is used in the processed food industry
Nutmeg is used by itself and in spice mixtures, mostly in the meat and bakery industries. Nutmeg oil is flavouring in the processed food industry.
Nutmeg is the kernel of the fruit of a large tropical tree which only produces fruit after about 8 years and does not come to maturity until about 25 years. The fruit, which is often eaten as a sweetmeat, is first removed by breaking. This is followed by the removal of the aril or mace to reveal the kernel.
Nutmeg oil is a yellowy fat which is extracted from the nut and distilled to produce an essential oil.
Main market features
Various attempts have been made in history to stabilise the nutmeg price. In 1986 Indonesia agreed to hold the export price at approximately $6650 per tonne for first-quality Grenadan and Indonesian nutmeg. (Second-grade Indonesian grade was fixed at between $1000 and $1200.) This agreement broke down in 1989 during the deregulation of the Indonesian economy and under pressure to end it from the US.
After the collapse of the agreement, prices for nutmeg fell to as low as $550 per tonne. Since then there have several meetings between Aspin, the Indonesian ‘producers’ group, and the Grenada.
Cooperative Nutmeg Association, which have helped to stabilise prices at a higher level even though they only proposed introducing a joint marketing system rather than reconstructing the cartel. Prices were stabilished further in 1993 when Indonesia and Grenada decided to destroy surplus stocks.
Further progress towards price stabilisation was hampered in 1994 by the Indonesian suggestion that a private Dutch company should have the exclusive right to market both countries’ production. Grenada wanted the producers themselves to control marketing. In a meeting in April 1995 the two parties could only agree to set up a programme to promote the use of nutmeg.
Given that nutmeg prices can rise only if demand is increased or supply reduced, it seems rather that the two countries should try to influence demand, over which they have to no control.
The buying power of the large food processing companies which buy the bulk of nutmeg output also helps to keep prices low.
The US used to buy nutmeg from Grenada before Hurricane Janet wiped out the industry in 1955. Indonesia took over the US market and, when their supplies recovered, Grenada had to find other markets, notably in Europe.
Crushed and ground nutmeg imports into Europe amount to only 5-10 per cent of total imports, possibly due to the 5 per cent EU duty on ground nutmeg compared with zero on whole nuts.
Grenada SUNS, cif Europe, US$ per tonne:
1991 – 5400, 1992 – 5400, 1993 – 2200, 1994 – 1900, 1995 – 2362.
NUX VOMICA (also known as crow fig)
Nux vomica is the seed of a small, evergreen tree which grows in South-East Asia, especially in the forests of India and Sri Lanka. It also grows in Australia.
Locally it is used as a stimulant and pungative. Nux vomica is a source of strychnine which can be extracted not from the seeds but also from the bark, leaves and roots of the tree. It is a crystalline solid which is soluble in alcohol. Although it is used as a tonic in very small doses, there is no evidence that it is effective. It is also used as a respiratory stimulant for the treatment of poisoning of the central nervous system.
In large doses strychnine is a deadly poison which, strangely enough, can be counteracted by another natural, tropical poison, curare.
In the UK in 1995 nux vomica tablets were on sale to treat sore throats caused by smoking or ‘voice use’. 125 tablets cost £3.15 sterling.
OKRA (also known as lady’s finger, bhindi)
Okra has what is called a mucilaginous quality, that is, it becomes glutinous when cooked. This maked it useful for thickening soups and other dishes. It is the central ingredient in callaloo, a west Indian soup, and used widely in Indian cuisine.
It deteriorates very quickly at room temperature but neither does it lend itself to refrigeration. In spite of this, it is exported (mainly by air) from Kenya, Mexico, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
In early 1995 the wholesale price for the Mexican okra on the London market was £11 sterling for a 5 kg carton.
Over the last two decades an ornamental plant has become an essential part of the office, shop and restaurant furniture in most countries. Such plants range from tiny cacti in pots to full grown tress in shopping malls. They lend a light touch to the décor and boost the oxygen level a little. These plants need to be able to thrive in the relatively poor light of an office in northern latitudes. Some trees and plants that have evolved to live in the shade below the forest canopy in warm countries are ideal.
The international ornamental plant export industry is dominated by companies, based in the Netherlands and in Florida, USA. The pattern may be changing, however. Dade county, in Florida, which has a large concentration of greenhouses devoted to growing ornamental plants, was devastated by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. This was not the first time that local weather conditions had played havoc with the flow of supplies and customers in other countries are looking for alternative suppliers. In recent years Kenya, Colombia South Africa and Cuba have increased their export business.
Tropical ornamental plants grow many times faster in their native conditions than they do in temperate climates. Most of them need to be kept inside, out of the frost, once they reach Northern consuming countries. For these reasons it makes sense to grow them in tropical countries and only store them for short periods in warm greenhouses in temperate climates to acclimatise the plants regrow damaged foliage and maintain a minimum stock. This means that the plants must be transported over long distances. This can either be done by sea in containers that can be heated and the plants watered, or quickly by air. Both methods are expensive and the plants need to be packed densely but very carefully to keep the transport cost down.
In addition, there are many regulations governing the import of plants into developed countries. They must be planted in a fresh, sterile medium while being imported and they must carry a phytosanitary certificate issued by the plant Protection Service of the exporting country. Some types of the plant are prohibited for import altogether.
If these difficulties can be overcome and if the supplier can gain a reputation for reliability, the trade can be very profitable.
Prices of plants vary according to type and height, diameter, number of branches, etc, eith larger plants being more expensive than smaller ones.
1993 popular species, height and cif prices, US dollars
chysalidocarpus lutescens 80cm 6.55
chysalidocarpus lutescens 100cm 21.75
phoenix roebelenii multiple 40cm 5.00
phoenix roebelenii 25cm 20.85
phoenix roebelenii 60cm 76.00
phoenix roebelenii 100cm 93.75
Ficus nitida recto 30cm 4.85
Ficus nitida recto 100cm 32.50
Ficus nitida ballet 60cm 18.75
Ficus nitida mini 15cm 2.50
Latania rubra 140cm 61.50
Mascarena various 70.90
Dracaena various 70.00
Other plants of interest include areca palms, aspidistra, calamondin, citrus, cycas revolute, zamia furfuracea, pleome
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