America wants to grow agricultural trade with South Africa

According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2012, the United States imported $285 million worth of South African agricultural products, led by wine, macadamia nuts, citrus fruit and other consumer-oriented food products.

This was revealed during a US agricultural trade mission which met with the South African food industry delegates in Johanneburg for talks on developing trade relations between SA and US food producers.

According to organisers during a seminar entitled “Diversifying the Southern Africa Food Basket,” delegates addressed local importers, wholesalers, traders, retailers, hoteliers, restaurateurs, NGOs, institutional feeding organisations, food industry professionals and government representatives.

Interestingly, South Africa’s imports of agricultural products from the United States in the same period totalled almost the same value at $287 million, led by intermediate goods for further processing locally and consumer-oriented food products, a report further revealed.

Ross Kreamer, Minister Counsellor for Agricultural Affairs, USDA said, “Diversifying our respective food baskets has been mutually beneficial.

Organisers also introduced the audience to members of the USDA’s Global Based Initiative, which includes some of the US’s leading food trade associations: American Peanut Council; US Dry Bean Council; US Dry Pea & Lentil Council; US Potato Board; and the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WiSHH).

And in aiming to increase trade with Southern Africa, the mission highlighted the high nutritional value and relatively low cost of soya, peanut, dry bean, peanut and lentil and dried potato products. They also noted the US growers’ ability to supply quality, cost-effectiveness, and a reliable, uninterrupted supply from a politically stable nation, the meeting reported added.

Highlighting the nutritional value of their products, the representatives of leading food trade associations explored local needs and noted that their foodstuffs and food ingredients presented a strong value proposition in addressing malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa.  These organizations work closely with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish strong trade links.

Jim Hershey, Executive Director of the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH), said world demand for soy has doubled in the last 15 years, with China, the country of origin of the plant, being the single largest importer. “South Africa has almost tripled its soybean production in the last ten years, but is still a net importer of soybean protein.”

Hershey noted that stunting rates, a strong indicator of chronic under-nutrition and protein deficient diets, are very high in Southern Africa. “Even South Africa’s stunting rate is greater than 20%, and probably higher in rural communities. With availability and affordability of protein being key factors contributing to stunting,

Hershey further pointed to the products represented at the conference as good sources for food. For example, South Africa is a leader, both in Africa and the whole world (outside of Asia), in the use of soy in local diets.

Cade Fields-Gardner, Nutrition Consultant for the US Potato Board, said in addition to a wide range of commercial uses, dehydrated potato products have been included in humanitarian and development efforts in emergency/disaster relief and school feeding programs. The potential value of US dehydrated potato products for the food industry in South Africa and the regions lay in addressing the nutritional health of young children in South Africa, where both undernutrition and overnutrition are current concerns, said Fields-Gardener.

Chris Goldthwait, consultant to the American Peanut Council said commercial sales of peanuts and peanut butter to Africa (not including countries that fall into the Middle East region) was about $11 million dollars in 2012 from nearly zero only a few years ago.

“This was mostly in the form of high value processed peanuts and peanut butter,” he said. “It should be noted this was for 2012 – during which the US experienced its worst peanut crop ever harvested. We expect 2013 to be better.”

Goldthwait noted that peanuts are high in important vitamins and micronutrients, containing nearly half the 13 basic vitamins, especially Vitamin E. “In fact, peanuts are the basic ingredient in Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) and Ready to Use Supplementary Foods. “Peanut-based RUTF has the very best weight gain results for children under two suffering from severe, acute malnutrition,” he said.

Johanna Stobbs, the official representative in Europe, Turkey, Russia and  sub-Saharan Africa of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, noted that pulses including dry peas, lentils and chickpeas are excellent sources of protein, fiber and other essential nutrients. Stobbs said: “We are working with a highly nutritious, low-cost food, grown in perfect conditions. US dry peas and lentils are totally natural, non-GMO, pure and clean – offering good health and nutrition.”

The US Department of Agriculture reports that 2012 US exports to South Africa of dry peas, lentils and chickpeas rose to 9,340 MT, a massive increase of 170% over 2011. South African canners are currently seeking dry peas, because they are a nutritious and cost-effective alternative to fresh peas, Stobbs said.

The US Dry Bean Council’s Regional representative, David McClellan, said the United States on an average produces 1.2 million MT/yr of dry beans and exports between 300,000 and 450,000 MT/yr.  He said: “The US is well known among canners and packagers around the world for its wide range of high quality dry beans.

Dry beans are also popular for use in food aid operations, especially in Africa where dry beans are a traditional staple as well as being economical, nutritious and easy to store and transport.”

A relatively new dry bean product, pre-cooked dry bean flours have a range of applications in the bakery, snacks and meat industries, he said, as a product, which can improve taste, texture and nutritional value.

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