International year of fruits and vegetables: zero food waste/fruit waste

On December 15, 2020, QU Dongyu – FAO Director-General – launched the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables (IYFV-2021).

An instance focused on highlighting the importance of consuming these foods and optimizing their production until reaching zero food and fruit waste and using the resources required for cultivation and processing.

Undoubtedly an unprecedented opportunity to draw attention to the importance of these types of foods in our nutrition and the need to promote their production and consumption within a sustainability framework and zero food and fruit waste practices. Its main features are worth noting.

Raise awareness on the benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables for nutrition and health

The intake of fruits and vegetables provides significant health and nutrition benefits, such as strengthening the immune system, stimulating children’s growth and development, promoting longevity, and improving mental and cardiovascular health.

They also help reduce the risk of cancer, prevent all forms of malnutrition, and contribute to the promotion of diversified and balanced diets and lifestyles.

Despite these benefits, most people do not consume enough fruits and vegetables, which is at least 400 grams per day.

The call to the members of the United Nations (UN) and various international and regional entities -such as the civil society, the private sector, and academia-, is to drive actions that promote their production and consumption, such as education campaigns in this regard and subsidies to consumers.

This also implies increasing the fruits and vegetables availability by promoting good agricultural practices and solving distribution problems, usually linked to the lack of infrastructure in rural areas and the responsible use of resources.

Promote production framed under sustainable development

According to the IYFV documentglobal fruit and vegetable production rose by almost half between 2000 and 2018. However, it is still a relatively low figure to meet the food and nutritional needs of the world population, as it only ensures 390 grams per person, although here these are considered as inedible portions (heart and skin), in addition to losses and waste.

Hand in hand with the promotion of consumption, it is necessary to boost agricultural production within a framework of more efficient and sustainable practices to use less water, fertilizers, and pesticides. Some of the possibilities are:

  • Improvement of seeds and plant material.
  • Adequate watering.
  • Comprehensive pest management.
  • Crop rotations and intercropping.
  • Production integrated with livestock.
  • Environmentally friendly soil amendments.
  • Tillage reduction.
  • Organic agriculture.

Additionally, for production to be sustainable, it is prudent to deploy sophisticated technologies that help combat risks throughout the crop cycle, improving productivity, yield, and product quality.

For this purpose, it is prudent to support or finance small farmers since these are tools that usually require significant investments and are available only to large-scale commercial producers, mostly dedicated to the fruit export market (export fruit) or industrial processing.

Optimize markets and value chains

Fruits and vegetables can result in high yields per hectare. If appropriately labored, optimizing markets and value chains could help reduce poverty and nutrition problems significantly.

Because it is perishable, most of the fruit and vegetable production is marketed for the local national market. However, it is vitally important to strengthen exports (export fruit) as the driving force behind the expansion of the fruits and vegetables sector while promoting local production and markets.

For this purpose, it is necessary to deploy solutions that allow for an increase of the useful life of fruits and vegetables, enhancing possibilities for producers and increasing crop profitability.

The reduction of loss and waste (zero food waste/fruit waste)

To eliminate the causes of loss and waste in the production chain of fruits and vegetables, it is necessary to consider factors such as:

  • Lack of technology and infrastructure.
  • Poor training of operators handling fruits and vegetables.
  • Improper storage and transportation.
  • Excessive handling during the retail sale.
  • Rudimentary approaches.
  • Limited technical capacity.
  • Inadequate infrastructure (access roads, drinking water, electricity, etc.).
  • “Ugly fruits” rejection in the sales stage, even if perfectly healthy and suitable for consumption.

By eliminating or reducing these elements, avoiding waste and poor use of resources, the overall production is optimized, thus increasing the profitability of investments. In addition, all the above results in an increase in the amount of food, something key to combat hunger globally.

Proper management is required throughout the entire crop cycle and supply chain to reduce losses and waste, where innovative technologies such as natural coatings play a decisive role.

Natural coatings such as Shel-Life, make fruit and vegetables have a longer shelf life. It is a coverage made from natural extracts and plant polymers (free of petroleum derivatives) that prevents dehydration and the growth of microorganisms.

Shel-Life also helps ensure food safety and quality. In this sense, it is necessary to apply business quality standards and technical regulations to ensure the product’s optimum quality and avoid waste related to damage or bad practices that prevent their sale.

The International Year of Fruits and Vegetables recalls the need to adopt nationwide measures to increase the production and consumption of fruits and vegetables and make them more affordable for consumers while creating economic and social benefits and promoting sustainable development.

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