The United Nations has declared 2021 as the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables. The Year aims to raise awareness of the nutritional and health benefits of consuming more fruits and vegetables as part of a diversified, balanced and healthy diet and lifestyle as well as to direct policy attention to reducing loss and waste of these highly perishable produce items.

When we think of healthy eating, the first food items that often come to mind are fruits and vegetables – colourful, vitamin-, mineral- and fibre-rich, they are vital for the proper functioning of the human body. The benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables as part of a nutritious diet are vast. Fresh produce items are not only beneficial to consumers, but they also benefit the food system. The fruit and vegetable sector contributes to increasing biodiversity, generating environmental sustainability, and improving the livelihoods of farmers and employees operating along the value chains.

Low availability, due to challenges in production (for example, labour intensity), transport and trade, and high prices for quality products make fruits and vegetables inaccessible to many, especially in developing countries. Some areas of the world face limited availability and access to these foods.

Fruits and vegetables are highly perishable products, and this can cause high levels of food loss and waste at every step of the value chain, starting at the farms. Given that many fruits and vegetables are consumed raw or uncooked, they may also pose a risk for foodborne illnesses linked to pathogen contamination and food safety risks due to chemical contamination.

Therefore, it is crucial to look at the fruit and vegetable sector holistically as an integral part of the food system, going beyond nutritional benefits, and to also examine their social, economic, and environmental benefits. Different actors can contribute to making fruits and vegetables more accessible, affordable and available. Investing in the cold chain, research and development, and digital innovation can help improve the sector substantially.

This publication seeks to draw attention to actions and systematic approaches that must be taken throughout the fruit and vegetables food system to ensure their safety for consumption and to deliver better nutritional outcomes and healthy diets for all.

This publication will help to stimulate an interesting discussion about the fruit and vegetable sector for the observance of the International Year and beyond.

QU Dongyu
FAO Director-General