African ginger in traditional Dutch cake

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African ginger in traditional Dutch cake

27 September 2006

Forty tons of dried ginger: that's what a number of small-scale Sierra Leone farmers will be supplying to the Dutch spice company Unifine, next year. This delivery marks the start of a long-term supply relation between the company and these farmers. In the aftermath of the civil war in Sierra Leone, this will enable them to rebuild their livelihoods. KIT brought the two parties together.

Unifine produces sauces, dressings and spices for the food industry and the hotel, restaurant and catering sectors. Unifine's home market is the Benelux, for which it obtains a wide variety of herbs and spices from all corners of the world. Media coverage of KIT's efforts in the field of sustainable economic chains prompted Unifine to contact the Institute. The company is seeking collaborative opportunities to consolidate its supply chains.

Traditionally, the company purchased raw materials from wholesalers based in Europe. However, this form of supply increasingly fails to satisfy the current demands of Unifine's customers for a high quality product. In addition, the food industry in particular is becoming increasingly stringent about the traceability of products. This demand is difficult to satisfy if a wholesaler obtains its goods from a range of different countries.

Given these developments, Unifine is exploring new supply possibilities, for example by investing in producers and suppliers in developing countries. This enables the company to work toward a direct, sustainable chain relation that also benefits the producers.

After completing an orientation phase, KIT and Unifine decided to first focus on developing sustainable production chains for ginger. This included conducting action research into the processing of ginger. In the Netherlands, ginger is mainly used in cookies and cake, for instance the typical Dutch breakfast cake. Ginger is also a much-used ingredient in the Indian and Indonesian kitchen. 

The recently placed order for forty tons of dried ginger follows a successful pilot project in which small-scale farmers in Sierra Leone, with KIT's assistance, first delivered eight tons of ginger to Unifine. The pilot project included the development and testing of processing techniques in regional research centres. At the same time, the possibilities of applying the available technology on a larger scale and of developing quality assurance systems were studied.

In a next phase, KIT and Unifine will probably turn to establishing a sustainable production chain for lemon grass (sereh) from Sri Lanka