Photo of fruits and vegetables at a market

Investing in innovation and infrastructure in the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables

Investments in traceability innovations and cold chain infrastructures can reduce post-harvest loss in the fruit and vegetable sector.

January 28, 2021

Fruits and vegetables are essential for human nutrition. But they’re also beneficial to the food system: the fruit and vegetable sector can help benefit global efforts to generate environmental sustainability, increase biodiversity, and improve the livelihoods of farmers and employees along the value chains.

In order to raise awareness of both the nutritional and health benefits and of the need to reduce loss and waste of these perishable items, the UN General Assembly designated 2021 the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables (IYFV).

IYFV 2021 aims to raise awareness on the important role of fruits and vegetables in human nutrition, food security, and health, and in achieving UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The campaign encourages a holistic look at the fruit and vegetable sector as an integral part of the food system. To address some of the food loss and waste issues particularly pertinent to the sector will require investment in areas like traceability, cold chains, and transportation infrastructure.

Digital technologies trace fresh produce to its source

Innovation, improved technologies, and infrastructure are critical to increase the efficiency and productivity within fruit and vegetable supply chains to reduce loss and waste — a substantial challenge considering the high perishability of fruits and vegetables. That’s where focused investment in digital innovation can help.

Digital innovation makes it possible to track and trace fresh produce from production to consumption. More large-scale retailers are adopting traceability protocols, creating new market opportunities for producers who can comply with the retailer’s quality and safety standards.  Traceability also reduces losses and waste and makes the value chain more transparent, something consumers increasingly value.

Further, new traceability practices that use digital technology help ensure food safety and quality, optimize supply chains, and reduce loss by making spoilage problems readily detectable. Traceability also helps mitigate and manage risks associated with food safety recalls.

One increasingly popular method of traceability is blockchain, because it connects all the stakeholders’ digital records and events in a tamper-resistant format. The information can be accessed at any point from anywhere, yet it cannot be edited or deleted.

Increases in trade have also been made possible through innovations in distribution technology and logistics that have cut transport costs and delivery times. Fresh produce is now available and affordable year-round in many places.

Photo of a market in India wherein people are selling goods in cardboard boxes
Photo credit Vaishali Dassani, IFPRI

Cold chain investments for fruitful trade

Up to 50 percent of fruits and vegetables produced in developing countries are lost in the supply chain between harvest and consumption. India is the second largest producer of fruit and vegetables after China, yet it struggles with excessive waste in its supply chains. 

Most farmers in India cultivate less than four hectares and sell their produce to the local mandi, which distributes to a vast informal network of 15 million kiranas, the small-family-owned retail outlets where most Indians purchase their food.  

This short domestic supply chain from farm to mandi to kirana to table is critical given that India has only enough cold chain capacity for 10 percent of the perishable food it produces.

India’s cold storage and transportation network needs to increase its capacity by 61 million metric tons at an investment of more than $10 billion, not including annual costs for management and maintenance.  

Investing in innovation and infrastructure to solve these challenges helps ensure that fruits and vegetables are available, accessible, and affordable to everyone — fundamental if we hope to achieve food security and combat malnutrition around the world in the years ahead.

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