A pioneering United Nations discussion ‘The Future for Fruit & Vegetable Kai Systems in Aotearoa’, has identified a number of pathways for our fresh produce industry towards achieving a sustainable future for all Kiwis.
Hosted by United Fresh, the UN Independent Dialogue brought together for the first time experts from across the entire supply chain from production to retail along with tangata whenua representatives and leaders from organisations which support vulnerable communities such as food banks and churches.
Jerry Prendergast, President of United Fresh and curator of the event, says that the recent Dialogue provided the industry with a valuable opportunity to include representatives of the most disadvantaged in Aotearoa.
“The Covid-19 lockdowns taught us important lessons about our food systems. Empty supermarket shelves in some grocery categories were a sharp reminder of how important it is to maintain a steady supply of nutritious food to each and every New Zealander,” he says.
“Meeting with representatives of organisations at the coalface of work with our most deprived families has provided us with greater insight into the challenges some Kiwis face in putting healthy food on the table each day,” says Prendergast.
The UN Dialogue covered five distinct areas of discussion. Access to fresh fruit and vegetables for all, sustainable access to suitable and affordable land and water resources, the use of labour and technology, the health and nutrition benefits of 5+ A Day for all Kiwis and the resilience of our supply chains in the face of a major crisis were all explored in five breakout groups.
“The areas of discussion were deliberately broad for this Dialogue. While we could have easily focused on just one or two of these critical topics, the UN set us the challenge of working on all five and identifying future areas to work on,” says Prendergast.
“Our collaboration with tangata whenua representatives, and particularly the participation of Dr Nick Roskruge, Chair of Tāhuri Whenua – The National Māori Vegetable Growers Collective as Co-Convenor of the Dialogue has been critical in developing a greater understanding of kai sovereignty and developing solutions that acknowledge the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi,” he says.
Outcomes relating to access to fresh fruit and vegetables included plans to create a communications network that deliberately includes a te ao Māori voice and identifies gaps in distribution channels to rural and vulnerable communities.
A food system that emphasises the importance of nurturing our land and water resources was also discussed.
Technological advances and labour shortages are also at the forefront of concerns about securing the supply of fresh fruit and vegetables, particularly the balance that needs to be achieved by bringing new talent to the industry with a high skillset to operate in a highly technical environment.
“Training our rangatahi to work within complicated supply chains which accurately trace food from field-to-table is a priority for our $6 billion horticulture industry,” says Prendergast.
“Along with evolving processes, we’re also looking to the future of our changing tastes as we address the best way to increase consumption and encourage Kiwis to eat their 5+ A Day.
Innovative programmes such as Fruit and Vegetables in Schools have been identified as an excellent way to share the health and wellbeing benefits of fresh produce,” he says.
The resilience of our fruit and vegetable supply systems in times of crisis was also examined during the Dialogue.
“As a net exporter of food, with excellent growing conditions and fertile land, Aotearoa is well-positioned to feed our population through good times and bad. We’re focused on working together with a collective of stakeholders to build even greater resilience within our current system and future-proof the industry for the benefit of all Kiwis,” says Prendergast.