By Vatican News
The United Nations is observing 2021 as the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables (IYFV). The purpose is to highlight the vital role of fruits and vegetables in human nutrition and food security, as well as urging efforts to improve sustainable production and reduce waste.
Leaving no one behind
In a message launching the campaign, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that despite tremendous benefits of fruits and vegetables, “we do not consume enough of them.” “Fruits and vegetables are the cornerstone of a healthy and varied diet,” he said. “They provide the human body with an abundance of nutrients, strengthen immune systems and help lower risks for a number of diseases.”
“As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect the health and livelihoods of people across the world,” the UN chief urged all to “come together to ensure that nutritious food, including fruits and vegetables, reaches the most vulnerable, leaving no one behind.”
Sustainable development goals (SDGs)
Guterres also drew attention to the strong links between food systems and sustainable development. He called on all stakeholders to make food systems more inclusive, resilient and sustainable, including through adopting a more holistic approach to production and consumption that benefits human and environmental health.
“Let us use this International Year to rethink our relationship with how we produce and consume food, and to re-examine our food systems and commit to a healthier, more resilient and sustainable world where everyone can access and afford the diverse nutrition they need," he said.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is leading the celebration of the year, in collaboration with other organizations. FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu launched the International Year on 15 December with a virtual event, appealing to all to improve healthy and sustainable food production through innovation and technology and to reduce food loss and waste.
Qu 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 of fighting hunger and malnutrition, and said 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,” Qu said, “promoting healthy diets to strengthen our immune systems is especially appropriate." While noting the challenges in improving production and agri-food chains, the FAO chief encouraged countries to see the International Year as an opportunity to improve infrastructure and farming practices, thereby supporting small scale farmers. He emphasized fruits and vegetables were a good way for farmers to create cash crops.
Consuming sufficient, or even more than the recommended amounts, of fruit and vegetables has many health and nutrition benefits. Rich in fibres, vitamins and minerals, fruits and vegetables are crucial for growth and development of children, and help boost immune systems.
They are also linked to lower risk of depression and anxiety, obesity and non-communicable diseases, promote gut health and counter micronutrient deficiencies.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people should eat a minimum of 400 grams of fruits and vegetables daily, as part of a healthy diet. However, due to a number of factors, such as availability, affordability, or lack of knowledge and awareness, many people around the world consume less than that amount.
Food and economic security
The launch of the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables also emphasized the importance of fruits and vegetables as a good way for farmers to generate more income. Advocacy for fresh produce is consistent with the aim of strengthening the role of smallholder and family farmers, and fosters broader market options for millions of rural families.
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 percent of fruits and vegetables produced in developing countries are lost in the supply chain between harvest and consumption.
FAO celebrated the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste on 29 September 2020.
Gender equity opportunities are also noteworthy, as women often play leading roles for their households in both the production and consumption of fruit and vegetables.
The International Year complements several other key initiatives including the Decade of Action on Nutrition (2016-2025), the Decade of Family Farming (2019-2028), and the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. These observances reinforce each other while providing greater visibility to small-scale producers and raise awareness on food security and nutrition. (Source: UN, FAO)