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South Africa to lure Indian tourists by faster visa process: Minister

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New Delhi: South Africa is keen to employ latest information technology (IT) and other facilities to hasten the visa issuance process to attract more Indian tourists and businesses to the country, a visiting minister has said.

South African Minister of Home Affairs M. Gigaba said his country is keen and ready to cater to more Indian tourists and businesses.

“India is a fast growing economy and South Africa is ready to partner with it. We are ready to serve more Indian businesses and welcome more Indian tourists to South Africa,” the minister told IANS at the South African High Commission here.

“South Africa has the best of infrastructure, best of facilities for business in the whole of Africa. It can cater to Indian businesses which are looking at entering the African continent. The country also has abundant natural resources.”

According to the minister, as a member of the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), South Africa has provided to Indian businessmen the facility to obtain a 10-year multiple entry visa.

“We have provided the 10-year multiple entry business visas. We are also looking at employing latest IT technologies that can ease the visa facilitation process and allow faster processing of visas for tourists and businessmen,” the minister explained.Rekha-Indian-Tourist-1

The South African minister is in India to meet his counterpart, Rajnath Singh, to discuss bilateral issues and the new visa policy between the two countries.

Currently, India is the third largest market in Asia, and seventh globally, for South Africa. The changes in the new visa policy are expected to have a major effect on tourism and on business growth in both the countries.

“We expect the number of Indian visitors to South Africa to grow. But even if it dips in the first year of the new regulations on visa norms being implemented, it won’t be a major concern. People take time to adjust to the new policy and norms,” the minister said.

“The reason behind the new visa regulations is to have a secure system in which no one is allowed to abuse the South African visa and immigration policies. This is to enhance safety, stop trafficking, and promote trust in travellers when they come to South Africa,” he said.

The minister also pointed out the various security threats emanating out of a loose visa system, like travel on false documents, child trafficking and promotion of illegal trades.

The South African government has come under criticism over its new immigration regulations, which came into effect from October 1, 2014.

The new rules require tourists to appear “in person” during the visa application process in order to obtain a biometric visa.

There is also the requirement for all children under the age of 18, travelling to and from South Africa, to carry the copy of an unabridged birth certificate in addition to their passport and visa. This regulation came into force from June 1, 2015.

Observers say the problem with the new system arose due to the lack of infrastructure to process the new set of data in visa applications.

However, the minister claims that the new infrastructure has been created especially in India, where the number of visa facilitation centres has grown from two to 11, and that more can be added if and when required.

“We will provide more facilities, more staff, and use new technologies to process the applications faster as and when the demand requires. I will be visiting the facilitation centres here in India and see them function,” the minister said.

In 2013, 128,179 Indian tourists visited South Africa, while the number dropped to 117,511 in 2014. (IANS)

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Chocolate Ingredient Cacao Dates Back To 5,400 yrs Ago

A growing interest in cacao flavors, indicates a return to a time when chocolate wasn't just an ingredient buried in a candy bar.

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A worker holds dried cacao seeds at a plantation in Cano Rico, Venezuela. VOA

New research strengthens the case that people used the chocolate ingredient cacao in South America 5,400 years ago, underscoring the seed’s radical transformation into today’s Twix bars and M&M candies.

Tests indicate traces of cacao on artifacts from an archaeological site in Ecuador, according to a study published Monday. That’s about 1,500 years older than cacao’s known domestication in Central America.

“It’s the earliest site now with domesticated cacao,” said Cameron McNeil of Lehman College in New York, who was not involved in the research.

The ancient South American civilization likely didn’t use cacao to make chocolate since there’s no established history of indigenous populations in the region using it that way, researchers led by the University of British Columbia in Canada said.

Cacao,chocolate
-A cacao pod hangs from a tree at the Agropampatar chocolate farm co-op in El Clavo, Venezuela. VOA

But the tests indicate the civilization used the cacao seed, not just the fruity pulp. The seeds are the part of the cacao pod used to make chocolate.

Indigenous populations in the upper Amazon region today use cacao for fermented drinks and juices, and it’s probably how it was used thousands of years ago as well, researchers said.

Scientists mostly agree that cacao was first domesticated in South America instead of Central America as previously believed. The study in Nature Ecology & Evolution provides fresh evidence.

Three types of tests were conducted using artifacts from the Santa Ana-La Florida site in Ecuador. One tested for the presence of theobromine, a key compound in cacao; another tested for preserved particles that help archeologists identify ancient plant use; a third used DNA testing to identify cacao.

Chocolate
A light almond cream candy carries the initials for Russell Stover Candies in Kansas City, Kansas. VOA

Residue from one ceramic artifact estimated to be 5,310 to 5,440 years old tested positive for cacao by all three methods. Others tested positive for cacao traces as well, but were not as old.

How cacao’s use spread between South America and Central America is not clear. But by the time Spanish explorers arrived in Central America in the late 1400s, they found people were using it to make hot and cold chocolate drinks with spices, often with a foamy top.

“For most of the modern period, it was a beverage,” said Marcy Norton, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World.”

The chocolate drinks in Central America often contained maize and differ from the hot chocolate sold in the U.S. They did not contain milk, Norton said, and when they were sweetened, it was with honey.

 

cocoa, chocolate
A worker holds cocoa beans at SAF CACAO, a export firm in San-Pedro, Ivory Coast, Jan. 29, 2016. VOA

By the 1580s, cacao was being regularly imported into Spain and spread to other European countries with milk being added along the way. It wasn’t until the 1800s that manufacturing advances in the Netherlands transformed chocolate into a solid product, Norton said.

Michael Laiskonis, who teaches chocolate classes the Institute of Culinary Education, said he’s seeing a growing interest in cacao flavors, indicating a return to a time when chocolate wasn’t just an ingredient buried in a candy bar.

Also Read: Consuming Cacao May Improve Vitamin D Intake, Says Study

He said he tries to incorporate chocolate’s past into his classes, including a 1644 recipe that combines Mayan and Aztec versions of drinks with European influences.

“It’s something that’s always been transforming,” he said. (VOA)