Fruit and vegetables are an important part of a balanced diet, delivering nutrients to our bodies that can reduce the risk for cancers, obesity, and heart attacks. Yet the production of these foods is often anything but balanced and many people do not have access to these healthy products.
Yellow, greens, orange, purple, blue - all the colours and shades of the rainbow are represented by the diversity of fruits and vegetables grown and consumed around the world.
Of all the agricultural products, the common banana plays an important role. It is one of the most important food products within developing countries and is consumed as the staple food for some 400 million people. Globally, bananas rank amongst the five most consumed fruits on the planet with nearly 1 billion consumed annually.
To meet this demand, fruits must be grown for internal and export markets. When it comes to fresh fruits, bananas are the most exported fruit on the planet, followed by citrus, grapes, and apples. Almost all Southern Hemisphere countries produce bananas. They are even the only fruit whose production is organised through a global assembly, the World Banana Forum.
For vegetables there is no one favoured item—the distribution is more balanced than fruits— with tomatoes, peas, lentils, onions, asparagus, potatoes, mushrooms, and peppers making up the majority of exports. China and India produce the most fresh fruits and vegetables in the world, producing a combined 1 billion tonnes in 2012. So clearly fresh fruits and vegetables are vital not only to our bodies, but to the health economies all over the world.
Juice is a refreshing and thirst-quenching beverage that comes in many flavours. In the quest for healthier lifestyles – and with all the micronutrients and vitamins preserved during processing – premium juices with high fruit and vegetable content are increasingly popular drink choices.
This new-found thirst for fruit and vegetable drinks has caused the juice industry to be the most competitive sector of the beverage industry. Although the juice industry is losing market share in the EU, the U.S. and Japan, it is rising in developing markets, such as Asia, and companies like Pepsi, Starbucks, and Coca-Cola are increasingly seeking to acquire juice companies.
So, exactly, just how big is the juice industry? By 2015, the global forecast for fruit and vegetable juices is set to be 64.46 billion litres. The global juice market is worth of 80 billion USD. Despite the popularity of juices, they make up only 20% of processed food production. Processed vegetables like tomato paste enjoy almost three times more production than juices.
Fresh and processed fruits and vegetables help sustain the health of our bodies. This same food has another, more unexpected use as feed for the livestock industry.
When a fruit or vegetable is harvested on a farm, not all of the harvested produce makes its way onto market as fresh or processed products. A proportion of every harvest is set aside as waste.
The fruit and vegetable waste from the packing, processing, consumption, and distribution stages of the organised fruits and vegetables sectors in India, China, the Philippines, and the United States produces 55 million tonnes of waste.
While some of this ends up in landfills and rivers, one popular use is to recycle this organic matter as livestock feed. For example, a by-product of juicing is citrus pulp, which is used in animal feed because it’s easy to digest for cattle and it contains large amounts of energy.
Many of the one billion people working in the agricultural industry struggle to support themselves and their families only to find labour practices and pesticides use put them further away from both food and economic security. On top of all of this, many people have no access to affordable fruits and vegetables.
The seasonal nature of many crops causes labour rights abuses and job insecurity. People often travel from distant regions or foreign countries to find work, at which point they are not offered formal employment contracts. And at the end of long, hard shifts workers are often forced to continue working, with workers in Chile being required to work up to 16 hours a day during peak periods.
Growers can find themselves with little to leverage for change when dealing with contractors who can dictate everything from labour, land use, and what seeds and agrochemicals to use.
Pesticides can cause health problems in the workers who apply them. Workers exposed to pesticides may begin with headaches, dizziness, and stomach pains, and can go on to develop cancer, or even die from toxic exposure. Rather than enabling change, these practices hold back lives.
Many farms use harmful pesticides and agrochemicals to protect their investments—crops—from insects, weeds, and plant diseases. Runoff from pesticides can contaminate the water communities drink. These practices harm another one of their biggest investments: the land used to grow fruit and vegetables.
The soil is weakened by the use of toxic pesticides, which often kills the active nutrients and the insects needed for healthy soil and growing fresh, nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. This loss of biodiversity is the price that will be paid unless sustainable techniques to produce our fruits and vegetables are used.
Pesticides do not only pollute water and soil, but contaminate the air. The Banana plantations in Colombia that use aerial fumigation carry pesticides in the wind well beyond the targeted crops into the surrounding communities and can emit toxins that cause climate change.
By re-evaluating the way pesticides are used in fruit and vegetable agriculture and finding more sustainable alternatives, we can help revitalise both ecosystems and diets, which are important investments for communities.
In Asia, the SaFaL programme supported almost 18,000 farmers (52% women) and market actors to achieve greater productivity through the adoption of sustainable technologies in production and post-harvest management. In Africa, we commissioned an agricultural status report in Zambia to gain a greater understanding of the fruit and vegetable sectors in-country. And Ecuador adopted the Banana Occupational Health and Safety manual developed by Solidaridad, which will impact the integrity, safety and well-being of 220,000 banana workers.
The SAFAL project (Sustainable Agriculture, Food Security and Linkages) in Bangladesh organized 57,000 farmers into 1,000 producer groups and supported them through training and better access to seeds. This, in turn, improved access to technology and connections with national retail markets in Dhaka. SAFAL formed Union-level Business Associations (UBAs) to develop stronger links and promote entrepreneurship. Yields in horticulture increased by 18% and farmers’ incomes increased by an average 16%. SAFAL is organizing pot-songs and street dramas to develop knowledge and awareness and promote nutrient-rich diets, as well as improving health and hygiene.
Solidaridad and the World Banana Forum partnered with the Ecuadorian government, national exporters association, banana farmers, workers unions, international banana companies and retailers in order to improve occupational health and safety in banana production. A national manual was developed based on new legislation and endorsed by the Ecuadorian government. This national manual will be a reference document for capacity building in the sector.
Strengthening food production and distribution systems for local markets is becoming increasingly important. Solidaridad is developing a portfolio of food security-related projects, including fruit and vegetables in Bangladesh, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, Mozambique and Ghana. In some cases, export crops are an enabler for farmers to improve their food crops. The food security programme in Kenya and Ethiopia, with Nestlé and Ecom as contributing partners, is an example of this approach, which aims to reach 120,000 farmers.
Solidaridad and leading Dutch dairy producer FrieslandCampina Riedel BV (FCR) launched a four-year, joint programme to improve the sustainability of fruit production around the globe. The orange juice sector in Brazil was identified as a priority target, resulting in the development of a self-assessment toolkit for citrus.
Solidaridad established cooperation with juice sector organisations AIJN, the recently established, business driven fruit juice CSR platform Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI platform), and more.
Solidaridad launched its partnership with Friesland Campina Riedel, the market-leader in the Dutch fruit juice sector in order to move towards 100% sustainably sourced products.
Solidaridad was contracted by Dutch Embassy in Bangladesh for the the four-year Sustainable agriculture Food security and Linkages programme (SaFaL). This programme is helping 200,000 smallholder farmers in Bangladesh adopt sustainable practices in horticulture and other areas while improving food security.
Solidaridad’s programme to promote sustainability in the Kenyan horticultural industry began, which gave priority to local and regional food chains in order to strengthen food security. Solidaridad began a banana sector sustainability programme in Colombia in collaboration with the Dutch Embassy.
The World Banana Forum was established. Bananas are the only fruit whose stakeholders are organised through a roundtable.
Solidaridad founded AgroFair Assistance & Development, an embedded service provider to support current and future AgroFair farmers.
In 1994, Solidaridad began working in the banana sector. By 1996, Solidaridad developed the concept of Fair Trade bananas and founded AgroFair Ltd, the pioneer fruit company that introduced the worlds first mission-driven, Fair Trade bananas to the European market. Then in 1999, the farmers organised into the Cooperative of AgroFair Producers and began supplying AgroFair. They became formal owners of 50% of the shares in the company.
In our 10 Regional Expertise Centres, with the help of NGOs, governments, and companies, we educate farmers in good practices, financial management, enterprise development, and how to produce sustainable fruits and vegetables.
Since the fruits and vegetables sector is highly diverse – ranging from huge banana plantations in Latin America to household cassava production in Africa - we focus on the sustainability challenges for certain fruits and vegetables in particular regions of the world. Our work in Kenya’s horticultural sector saw 10,000 workers trained in Good Agricultural Practices, group dynamics, financial management and enterprise development using materials developed by Solidaridad.
In order to improve sustainability, we also realise it is equally important to connect farmers to markets. To this end, we work with farmers to link them to financial institutions and input suppliers so market barriers are reduced.
Ensuring food security is deeply important, and this is why we seek innovative solutions that guarantee production for domestic consumption and fair prices for agro-commodities in the export market. Through our food security programmes in Ethiopia and Kenya we, along with companies, are helping 120,000 farmers improve food security. By helping companies take money gained from exports and invest it in local crop production, we ensure that everyone has access to healthy, affordable food.
The challenge of sustainability is not only to affect change on the farm-level, but on the sector-wide level. Altering the mentality and approach of an entire sector is ambitious. Here at Solidaridad, ‘ambitious’ is our comfort zone.
In the past we have launched agenda-setting initiatives and created new market realities with AgroFair, but the sector-wide response wasn’t what we’d hoped for. Sustainability initiatives have not been mainstreamed throughout the banana sector. But that hasn’t discouraged us.
Our continued participation in the World Banana Forum (WBF) guarantees we are consistently relevant in efforts to improve the banana industry. We currently sit on the WBF’s executive committee and bring together major brands in the banana industry, such as Dole and Chiquita.
In the juice sector, we have also been working to set a sector-wide suitability agenda. Our collaboration with AIJN, the European juice business association, the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform (SAI), the global food and drink industry initiative for sustainable agriculture, and Friesland Campina Riedel has brought major players in the juice industry together to tackle the sustainability challenges in the sector and find solutions.
"With the expertise of Solidaridad and their local networks we strive for easy accessible solutions, requiring limited investment levels for the local partners , embracing standardisation and harmonisation opportunities where feasible.”
Piet Haasen Manager, Research & Development FrieslandCampina Riedel
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