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FAO declares 2021 as International Year of Fruits and Vegetables

The director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, has launched the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables 2021 (IYFV) with a call to improve healthy and sustainable food production through innovation and technology and to reduce food loss and waste

According to a news release by FAO, the IYFV 2021 is dedicated to raising awareness about the important role of fruits and vegetables in human nutrition, food security, and health.

The FAO director-general described the initiative as ‘a unique opportunity to raise global awareness’. He noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had challenged people to find new ways to combat hunger and malnutrition, and said that IYFV would highlight the role of digital technologies in improving nutrition and market opportunities.

“In the current health crisis we are facing around the world, promoting healthy diets to strengthen our immune systems is especially appropriate,” Qu said.

While noting the challenges in improving production and agri-food chains, the FAO director-general encouraged countries to see the International Year as an opportunity to improve infrastructure, farming practices thereby supporting small scale farmers. He emphasised fruits and vegetables were a good way for farmers to create cash crops.

Fruits and vegetables are good sources of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals and beneficial phytochemicals. FAO and the World Health Organization recommend that each adult consumes at least 400 grams of fruit and vegetables daily to prevent chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity, as well as to counter micronutrient deficiencies.

The FAO director-general noted that food loss and waste in the fruits and vegetables sector remains a problem with considerable consequences,  and that ‘innovative technologies and approaches are of critical importance’, as ‘they can help to maintain safety and quality, increasing the shelf life of fresh produce items and preserving their high nutritional value’.

Food loss and waste reduction improves food security and nutrition, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, lowers pressure on water and land resources and can increase productivity and economic growth.

Up to 50% of fruits and vegetables produced in developing countries are lost in the supply chain between harvest and consumption.

Advocacy for fresh produce is consistent to strengthen the role of smallholder and family farmers, and fosters broader market options for millions of rural families. Gender equity opportunities are also noteworthy, as women often play leading roles for their households in producing and consuming fruit and vegetables.

The International Year of Fruits and Vegetables 2021 falls within the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition (2016-2025) and the UN Decade of Family Farming (UNDFF 2019-2028). These observances reinforce each other while providing greater visibility to small-scale producers and raise awareness on food security and nutrition.

FAO celebrated the first ever observance of the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste on 29 September 2020.