Britain's farmers urged to grow curry ingredients

India News Bulletin Desk
Image: Defra photo library, Open Govt Licence, Defra curry sub-group report.

Amid curry’s growing popularity, British farmers should grow more herbs, spices and chickpeas in the UK to make the food system more environment-friendly and to reduce import-related waste.

A Defra report based on the government’s Green Food Project estimated the UK curry market to be worth around £4bn. Of this, eating out accounted for £3.6bn and Indian ready-meals and ready-to-cook meals accounted for around £400m.

However, a majority of the curry ingredients are imported in the UK, increasing damage to the environment, the report further found.

For instance, tomatoes are one of the main ingredients in many curry dishes. But less than 20% of all tomatoes supplied to the UK are domestically produced.

Spices -- such as chillies, turmeric, paprika, coriander, pepper, anise, fennel, cardamom -- is another key component of the curry. But a majority of these are imported from South America, Asia and China, adding to the environmental burden of the dish and its reliance on imported ingredients.

Only coriander is now produced in significant quantities in the UK, the report stated.

The Green Food Project aims at reconciling how the UK can improve the environment whilst increasing food production. The project's authors identified steps to improve the food chain in the areas of research and technology, knowledge exchange, future workforce, investment, effective Structures, valuing ecosystem services, land management and consumption & waste.

Among sub-groups, the experts chose curry because “it spans the entire food supply chain, it is a dish that is widely consumed in the UK and has a mix of ingredients which can be grown in the UK," among other reasons.

Among other popular Indian dishes and ingredients related to the curry, the report suggested that UK retail rice market has grown by 66% in 2011, now valued at £440m and naan bread sales accounted for £60m in the same time period. The figures were provided by statistics and research company, Mintel.

Curry paste had estimated sales of £15m in 2011, while curry powder had estimated sales of £7m.

According to Defra, the UK is completely dependent on imports for rice and spices. But growing ingredients for Indian curries would open new markets and reduce dependence on imports, it recommended.

Promoting cooperation across the curry chain both horizontally -- between retailers and the food service -- and vertically -- between farmers and the food sector -- is equally important, the report concluded.

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