Why the colour of your fruit and vegetables matters

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Katharine Rooney, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • Plant-sourced foods are good for you.
  • Agriculture plays a unique role in food security.
  • A third of all food produced globally is wasted.
  • Better management of food chains can help minimise waste.

Happy International Year of Fruits and Vegetables!

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has designated 2021 as a special year to recognise the health and economic benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption.

The event was established as a way to help promote healthier diets around the world, as well as acknowledging the unique role that agricultural crops play in food security and farmer livelihoods.

Scientists say that access to fresh fruits and vegetables can help protect against non-communicable diseases, like cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Collectively, non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide. They could cost the global economy $47 trillion by 2030.

Consuming the right amount of fresh fruits and vegetables contributes to healthy growth in children, improved immunity, better mental health, and a longer life.

As the image below shows, the colour of a fruit or vegetable can be indicative of the nutrients it contains and benefits it conveys. Ensuring a mixture of them is key to a healthy diet. Food

What is the World Economic Forum doing to help ensure global food security?

Two billion people in the world currently suffer from malnutrition and according to some estimates, we need 60% more food to feed the global population by 2050. Yet the agricultural sector is ill-equipped to meet this demand: 700 million of its workers currently live in poverty, and it is already responsible for 70% of the world’s water consumption and 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

New technologies could help our food systems become more sustainable and efficient, but unfortunately the agricultural sector has fallen behind other sectors in terms of technology adoption.

Launched in 2018, the Forum’s Innovation with a Purpose Platform is a large-scale partnership that facilitates the adoption of new technologies and other innovations to transform the way we produce, distribute and consume our food.

With research, increasing investments in new agriculture technologies and the integration of local and regional initiatives aimed at enhancing food security, the platform is working with over 50 partner institutions and 1,000 leaders around the world to leverage emerging technologies to make our food systems more sustainable, inclusive and efficient.

Learn more about Innovation with a Purpose’s impact and contact us to see how you can get involved.

a chart showing the different health benefits of different coloured fruit and vegetables
The colour of a fruit or vegetable can be indicative of the nutrients it contains and benefits it conveys. Image: FAO

On average, we only eat about two-thirds of the recommended minimum amount of fruits and vegetables. In sub-Saharan Africa, that level drops considerably, with nearly 70% of those aged 50 and over failing to consume sufficient quantities in South Africa and just 5.5% of the same group doing so in Nigeria.

Boosting the supply of nutritious food

But what can be done to intervene?

Making fruit and vegetables more widely available, by improving the value chain between producers and consumers, is a cornerstone of the FAO’s strategy.

That includes encouraging small-scale farmers to join national and global value chains alongside multinational firms. This can be achieved through schemes like contract farming, which gives farmers a guaranteed price for a predetermined level of produce.

The organisation believes that government investment should also prioritise locally produced, indigenous varieties over the exotic and imported, which has led to reduced consumption of seasonal items.

Up to 50% of fruits and vegetables produced in developing countries are lost in the supply chain between harvest and consumption.

In many cases, the value chain from farmers to consumers is complex and multi-layered. Simplifying it could create opportunities for a more direct connection, such as at farmer’s markets, for instance – while strengthening support for smaller retailers could help to improve transparency and food safety.

a chart showing the complicated food chain
A simplified supply chain could make it easier to connect farmers to consumers. Image: FAO

Eliminating waste

The International Year of Fruits and Vegetables is also intended to support supply chain innovation and a more sustainable food system, including the minimisation of food waste.

According to the FAO, a third of all food produced globally is wasted. One target of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is to halve per capita food waste by 2030.

Technology is helping to reach that goal.

For example, StixFresh antimicrobial stickers mimic the compounds that soft fruit produces itself; creating a protective layer that slows the ripening process.

Online, sites like Olio connect neighbours and local businesses to donate unwanted food so it doesn’t get thrown away – while in the supermarket, artificial intelligence-driven solutions offer variable pricing matched to expiry dates.

Events are being organised around the world to celebrate the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables. The FAO hopes that its work will help more people to gain the nutritional and economic benefits that could improve living conditions for millions.

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