FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

Experts convened by FAO and PAHO/WHO identify actionable recommendations to improve fruit and vegetable consumption

An international workshop on Fruits and Vegetables brought together global experts to recommend concrete measures to overcome the factors that limit the consumption of fruits and vegetables, including those related to food production, value chains and prices, in preparation for the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables 2021.

15 september 2020 - “Fruits and vegetables are an integral part of healthy diets. You cannot talk about healthy diet and leave out fruits and vegetables”, reminds Anna Lartey, Food and Nutrition Director at FAO’s headquarters in Rome. Yet fruit and vegetable consumption in most countries in the world still does not reach the daily minimum of 400 grams/capita recommended by FAO and the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO).

To identify the factors contributing to low consumption and generate strategies to increase the intake of fruits and vegetables, FAO and PAHO/WHO held a workshop comprised of a series of five virtual sessions between August 24 and September 9.

The meeting was financially supported by FAO and the Ministry of Social Development and Family of the Government of Chile, through the Elige Vivir Sano Secretariat, facilitated by Innate Motion, and technically coordinated by FAO, WHO and the Corporación Actuemos, a Chilean non-profit organization.

The main objective of the workshop was to take stock of available scientific evidence on the health benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption and the effectiveness of policies and programmes that aim to promote sustainable consumption and production and value chains. On this basis, participants developed actionable recommendations for different stakeholders.  The outcomes of the workshop are expected to be a valuable input in the preparations for the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables in 2021.

The workshop brought together 35 renowned specialists in agricultural production, value chains, nutrition, health and public policy from around the world, representing academia, governments, NGOs and the private sector.

On the last day of the workshop, September 9th, participants reached consensus and produced conclusions and recommendations on how to transform the food system in order to increase the production and consumption of fruits and vegetables. They agreed that the low consumption of fruits and vegetables is a complex issue and can only be resolved by addressing several elements of the food system simultaneously, namely food production and supply, food environments and consumer behavior.

Because there is a deficit of fruits and vegetables in most countries, improvements in their production, processing, storage, and distribution is key. Other reasons for low consumption include taste preferences, low exposure to fruits and vegetables in homes and schools, high retail prices, and the cheap and universal availability of less nutritious, ultra-processed foods and beverages.

Another conclusion was that fruit and vegetable juices do not count towards the daily recommended 400 g/capita required as part of a healthy diet, but rather towards the free sugar foods which should be limited to no more than 5 to 10% of total daily energy intake, a particularly thorny issue given the fact that juices are one of the important means of reducing food loss and waste associated with this highly perishable category of foods.

FAO will publish these and other relevant findings to advance current knowledge about the factors that influence fruit and vegetable consumption in the world and to catalyze action.

“It is now more clear than ever that there is no such thing as a healthy diet without fruits and vegetables and that our health depends on ensuring that they comprise at least half of what we eat every day.  In fact, both humans and the planet can develop quite sustainably on diets primarily of fruits and vegetables”, stated Eve Crowley, FAO Deputy Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean and co-facilitator on the final day of the workshop.

¨The three background papers gathered and analyzed a large amount of information, which was combined with the wealth of knowledge of the participants into the workshop conclusions and recommendations. These can easily form the basis of government and stakeholder action in the upcoming International Year of Fruits and Vegetables”, assured Ruth Charrondière, the FAO Nutrition officer primarily responsible for the workshop.

Elige Vivir Sano is engaged in a partnership with FAO to work on public policies to strengthen family farming, open-air and local markets, and facilitate greater access to healthy, local products that benefit the health and quality of life of people in Chile. Daniela Godoy, Executive Secretary, commented: "It has been a great experience participating in this workshop and sharing experiences with other countries to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables in Chile and globally".

For his part, Pablo Moya, Representative of Actuemos, referred to his experience as technical coordinator of the workshop sessions. “By using a food systems approach, considering all components of the food value chain to structure the contents of the workshop, we were able to generate critical analysis and comprehensive proposals”, he said.

Marie Ruel, Director of the Poverty, Health and Nutrition Division of the International Food Policy Research Institute, affirmed: “Overall, this was an excellent meeting. I know a lot of people who are eager to read the papers and recommendations from the meeting on the critically important topic of fruits and vegetables!”