More than 28% of global agricultural land produces food that ends up lost or wasted. Food waste is a major contributor to climate change, hunger and economic insecurity, and puts pressure on limited resources. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that the equivalent of 1.3 billion tons of food are lost or wasted every year, causing US $1 trillion in economic costs, around US $700 billion in environmental costs, and US $900 billion in social costs. The factors impacting food security differ from region to region, ranging from availability, especially due to loss, to accessibility and affordability. Food security is about more than securing enough food to survive; what people eat must also be nutritious. Fruits and vegetables play a key role in a balanced and nutritious diet. While the challenges and roadblocks to food security are diverse, innovations in how we grow, harvest and even cook fruits and vegetables can be part of the solution to tackle food security.
Peste 28% din terenul agricol global produce alimente care ajung să fie pierdute sau risipite. Pierderile alimentare contribuie semnificativ la schimbările climatice, la foametea şi insecuritatea economică, punând presiune asupra resurselor limitate. Organizaţia pentru Alimentaţie şi Agricultură (Food and Agriculture Organization; FAO) estimează că echivalentul a 1,3 miliarde de tone de alimente sunt pierdute sau irosite în fiecare an, provocând costuri economice de 1 trilion de dolari SUA, aproximativ 700 miliarde de dolari în costuri de mediu şi 900 miliarde de dolari în costuri sociale. Factorii care influenţează securitatea alimentară diferă de la o regiune la alta, începând de la disponibilitate, în special din cauza pierderii, la sustenabilitate şi accesibilitate. Securitatea alimentară înseamnă mai mult decât asigurarea hranei suficiente pentru a supravieţui; ceea ce mănâncă oamenii trebuie să fie şi hrănitor. Fructele şi legumele joacă un rol-cheie într-o dietă echilibrată şi hrănitoare. În timp ce provocările şi obstacolele în calea securităţii alimentare sunt diverse, inovaţiile în modul în care creştem, recoltăm şi chiar gătim fructele şi legumele pot face parte din soluţia de abordare a securităţii alimentare.
Every ingredient on our plates has its own story to tell – a journey it has taken to get from the farmer’s fields to the shelves of a store or the booth of a market, and finally into a grocery basket. Yet, not all food will even make it to our stores, markets or plates.
More than 28% of global agricultural land produces food that ends up lost or wasted. Food loss and waste is a major contributor to climate change, hunger and economic insecurity, and puts pressure on limited resources. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that the equivalent of 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted every year, causing US $1 trillion in economic costs, around US $700 billion in environmental costs, and US $900 billion in social costs(1). How can we afford such a waste if 690 million people – more than twice the population of the USA – are still suffering from hunger?
The answer to this question is complex, and the factors impacting food security differ from region to region, ranging from availability, especially due to loss, to accessibility and affordability. And food security is about more than securing enough food to survive; what people eat must also be nutritious. Fruits and vegetables play a key role in a balanced and nutritious diet. While the challenges and roadblocks to food security are diverse, innovations in how we grow, harvest and even cook fruits and vegetables can be part of the solution to tackle food security(2).
Consider some of the items that may be on our grocery lists. Did you know that certain cherry tomatoes are bred to stay firmly attached to their trusses – making harvest easier, reducing food loss and waste, and reducing the need for plastic packaging? How about the fact that bananas could be nearing extinction without innovation? And did you know that a specific maize (corn) variety can better withstand drought and ultimately help to foster food security in regions vulnerable to climate change?
The fruits and vegetables that show up through the items on our shopping lists or the ingredients on our plates vary from increasing sustainability to improving the lives of smallholder farmers around the world. In fact, a single dish like curry shows that there is a bit(e) of food security in many ingredients (Figure 1)(3).
Digital tools as game changer
Located between India and China, the Republic of Bangladesh grows nearly 100 varieties of vegetables and 60 varieties of fruits. This tremendous effort is achieved by millions of Bangladeshi smallholder farmers who grow on less than two hectares of land. This small but important farming nation has grown to be one of the top ten potato-producing countries in the world. However, between the rising seas and the impacts of climate change, humid conditions are increasing the prevalence of late blight fungus which can wipe out an entire potato crop in less than one week.
Through a collaboration between Wageningen University and Research, a start-up called Mpower and Bayer Crop Science, potato farmers in Bangladesh now receive real-time SMS messages to alert farmers about favorable conditions for rapid disease development in their fields and when they should apply a treatment to protect their crops. Bayer takes a leading role to maximize the use of the digital GeoPotato advisory platform in Bangladesh. Guided by sustainability farming principles, it is a game-changing technology that supports farmers to increase both their yields and income(4-6).
Saving the banana
History is close to repeating itself when we consider the banana. In the 1950s, banana farmers around the world cultivated a variety that was completely eradicated by one particular pathogen. Today, when most of the world think of a banana, they see the Cavendish. But this breed is now under attack by an aggressive fungus, Fusarium Tropical Race 4 (TR4). As of today, there is no treatment for the disease. However, scientists and researchers have joined forces to ensure that bananas remain on the shelves.
By implementing strict hygiene measures, strengthening a banana plant’s roots to lower the risk of a fungal infection, and even cultivating a new variety of pathogen-resilient banana, farmers, scientists and consumers are working to ensure the banana remains one of the most important food crops on the planet(7).
Innovation to reduce food loss and waste
Fresh tomatoes are a popular request throughout grocery stores and farmers’ markets. But keeping those tomatoes fresh once you’ve taken them home is another challenge. By enhancing both the shelf-life and firmness of a tomato’s skin, plant breeders have created tomato varieties that can maintain their flavor and color from the farm to the market. For nearly two years, Bayer scientists studied more than 500 different tomato genotypes. From fleshiness to skin bruising to truss security, these traits have been combined to create new tomato varieties that can remain “farm-fresh” for up to two weeks – nearly double the length of time for an average tomato!
The innovations across these fruits and vegetables are key steps toward food security and healthy diets, which is more important now than ever with the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has both changed consumer demand and disrupted supply chains. From the scientists in the lab, to the farmers in the field and to our own decisions in the grocery store, we can all make a difference, address global food security and do our part to feed a hungry planet(8,9).
Vegetable curry recipe
Ingredients for main dish:
300 g (2 cups) of baby new potatoes
4 medium sized carrots
1 red onion
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
150 g (1 cup) of broccoli, including stems
150 g (1 cup) of snap peas
150 g (1 cup) of tomatoes
150 g (1 cup) of maize/sweet corn
Oil for frying (e.g., coconut oil, olive oil, sunflower oil)
150 g (1 cup) of rice.
Ingredient for the banana paste:
2 bananas (soft)
2 teaspoons coriander (ground)
4 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons of ground chili pepper
2 teaspoons of mustard seeds (ground)
2 teaspoons of fennel seeds (ground)
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds (ground)
1 teaspoon ofgaram masala
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.
Dice the baby new potatoes and boil in water, until softened.
Cube potatoes and slice carrots, courgette/zucchini, onion, and peppers thinly.
Place all spices in a small frying pan and dry fry on low heat until the spices are fragrant.
Place heated spice mix in a blender with bananas and garlic and blend until it is a liquid paste.
Heat one teaspoon of frying oil in a large wok. Add the potatoes and sliced onions and stir fry until browned.
Add the broccoli and sliced peppers and fry for a couple of minutes before adding the remaining vegetables.
Once the vegetables have cooked through and softened, add the paste to the dish and toss. Remove from the heat and serve with rice!
Conflict of interests: none declared.
financial support: none declared.
This work is permanently accessible online free of charge and published under the CC-BY licence.
FAO. Food Loss and Waste. https://www.fao.org/nutrition/capacity-development/food-loss-and-waste/en/.
The Effect of Food Loss & Waste on Climate Change. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2022/01/24/food-waste-and-its-links-greenhouse-gases-and-climate-change.
Survival of the best. The past present and future of plant breeding. https://www.bayer.com/en/news-stories/survival-of-the-best-the-past-present-and-future-of-plant-breeding.
Hosain KJ, Rahman SMM, Hengsdijk H. Geo data for late blight control in potato. Results of retailer survey in Rangpur, Bangladesh 2018-2019, GEOPOATO Report 7. Dhaka, Wageningen, 2020. https://edepot.wur.nl/517166.
How We Enable Access to Fresh Produce. https://www.nifa.usda.gov/about-nifa/blogs/nifa-programs-increasing-access-fresh-fruits-vegetables.
Policy Support and Governance Gateway. https://www.fao.org/policy-support/en/.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. https://www.fao.org/home/en.
Policy Support and Governance. https://www.fao.org/policy-support/policy-themes/food-loss-food-waste/en/.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. fao.org.