Happy International Year of Fruits and Vegetables!
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has designated 2021 as a special year to recognise the health and economic benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption.
The event was established as a way to help promote healthier diets around the world, and to acknowledge the unique role that agricultural crops play in food security and farmer livelihoods.
Eat a colourful array of fruits and veggies
Scientists say that access to fresh fruits and vegetables can help protect against non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Collectively, non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide. They could cost the global economy $47 trillion by 2030.
Consuming the right amount of fresh fruits and vegetables contributes to healthy growth in children, improved immunity, better mental health and a longer life.
As the image below shows, the colour of a fruit or vegetable can be indicative of the nutrients it contains and the benefits it conveys. Ensuring a mixture of them is key to a healthy diet.
On average, we only eat about two-thirds of the recommended minimum amount of fruits and vegetables. In sub-Saharan Africa, that level drops considerably. Nearly 70% of those aged 50 and over are failing to consume sufficient quantities in South Africa, while just 5.5% of the same age group are doing so in Nigeria.
Boosting the supply of nutritious food
But what can be done to intervene?
Making fruit and vegetables more widely available, by improving the value chain between producers and consumers, is a cornerstone of the FAO’s strategy.
That includes encouraging small-scale farmers to join national and global value chains alongside multinational firms.
This can be achieved through schemes like contract farming, which gives farmers a guaranteed price for a predetermined level of produce.
The organisation believes that government investment should also prioritise locally produced, indigenous varieties over the exotic and imported, which has led to reduced consumption of seasonal items.
Up to 50% of fruits and vegetables produced in developing countries are lost in the supply chain between harvest and consumption.
In many cases, the value chain from farmers to consumers is complex and multi-layered. Simplifying it could create opportunities for a more direct connection, such as at farmer’s markets, for instance. Strengthening support for smaller retailers could help to improve transparency and food safety.
The International Year of Fruits and Vegetables is also intended to support supply chain innovation and a more sustainable food system, including the minimisation of food waste.
Technology is helping to reach that goal.
For example, StixFresh antimicrobial stickers mimic the compounds that soft fruit produces itself; creating a protective layer that slows the ripening process.
Online, sites like Olio connect neighbours and local businesses to donate unwanted food so it doesn’t get thrown away. In the supermarket, artificial intelligence-driven solutions offer variable pricing matched to expiry dates.
Events are being organised around the world to celebrate International Year of Fruits and Vegetables. The FAO hopes that its work will help more people to gain the nutritional and economic benefits that could improve living conditions for millions.
This article was first published by the World Economic Forum.