Aotearoa’s $6 billion fresh produce industry today rolls out a localised UN initiative, as it celebrates the launch of the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables (IYFV).
The 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly declared 2021 as the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables to highlight the nutritional benefits of fresh produce.
The official launch this evening at Parliament will be hosted by the Hon Damien O’Connor, Minister of Agriculture, in partnership with United Fresh, New Zealand’s pan produce industry organisation, Horticulture New Zealand and Plant & Food Research.
The International Year of Fruits and Vegetables will showcase the government-funded Fruit & Vegetables in Schools (FIS) initiative which addresses the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It has been recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an exemplary programme with a case study presented by the international group AIAM5 in August last year.
Now in its sixteenth year and delivering over 27 million servings of fresh produce to over 124,000 tamariki nationwide, United Fresh President Jerry Prendergast says FIS is working towards ending hunger, reducing inequality and improving health, wellbeing and education.
“FIS is an excellent example of a successful local response to a global issue. As we mark the IYFV, we will be highlighting the benefits that FIS has for children struggling with food insecurity in our most vulnerable communities.
“The IYFV is a great opportunity to continue the discussions that we need to have around providing accessible, nutritious food to all Kiwis,” says Prendergast.
FIS reaches every decile one and two school in Aotearoa, more than any other food and nutrition health promotion initiative. Prendergast says the IYFV highlights the critical contribution that Aotearoa’s fresh produce industry makes to the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders.
“The fresh fruit and vegetables that our members produce provide the essential nutrients that help fuel our whole country. Eating at least five servings of fresh produce a day is an important part of a balanced, healthy lifestyle, even more so in COVID-19 times,” says Prendergast.
The UN recognises the significant contribution that fresh produce makes to the food security, generation of income, and employment of growers and farmers worldwide. In Aotearoa, that contribution is receiving renewed recognition as the pandemic serves as a reminder of the important role of our local food producers make in our daily lives.
“As New Zealanders we have the good fortune to live in a fruit basket and a salad bowl. Our horticultural sector has worked through very uncertain Covid times to keep us healthy with fresh produce, and we thank them for that. We must focus our efforts on ensuring all children both here and around the world can enjoy the nutrition that nature provides us,” says Damien O’Connor.
Prendergast says the role of fruit and vegetables in supporting health is critical to our well-being, but the fresh produce industry has a significant contribution to the entire economy as a source of income and employment, particularly in our rural communities. The IYFV aims to recognise the inextricable links that exist between agriculture and the entire food system.
“Fruit and vegetable production has been a critical part of the New Zealand economy for more than a century. Now, more than ever, we need to ensure our produce is reaching all Kiwis.
“Aotearoa’s fresh produce growers are already working hard to adopt sustainable practices. The IYFV offers a platform for us to further the advances that we have made in improving our storage, transport and processing procedures to bring fruit and vegetables to market with as little environmental impact as possible,” says Prendergast.
The United Nations also places specific emphasis on the empowerment of women through education, recognising their role in sustainable farming practices. In Aotearoa, women comprise about half of our horticultural workforce yet only 20 percent of the industry’s leadership roles. Prendergast believes the IYFV provides an opportunity to address the imbalance.
“Encouraging diversity of both gender and culture in roles across the industry is an important factor in ensuring the future of our industry. The IYFV is set to renew the focus on diversity issues and provide a catalyst for long term change,” says Prendergast.