How vegetable breeding helps to reduce food waste and loss
In order to increase the efficiency with which the world’s food is produced, distributed and consumed, it is essential to tackle food loss and waste. By exploring new pathways for vegetable development and innovation, Rijk Zwaan is opening up opportunities to address this issue.
As a vegetable breeding company, Rijk Zwaan is continuously developing innovative vegetable varieties. Besides meeting consumer expectations in terms of taste, convenience, nutrition and sustainability, these varieties are bred to offer benefits for the entire food chain – growers, producers and retailers – including stronger resistances, improved yields and reliability, and natural traits that help to reduce food waste. In this story, we share three examples of how breeding is helping to prevent vegetables from ending up as waste.
Lettuce stays fresh for longer
“Appearance and quality are two very important factors in the fresh supply chain,” says Santiago Gastón, Crop Specialist at Rijk Zwaan Ibérica. “That’s why, following more than a decade of conventional breeding work, Rijk Zwaan has developed the Knox™ trait in lettuce. This trait delays pinking, which can occur on the ribs and cut edges of lettuce after harvesting, handling or processing. Because this discolouration is delayed, fresh-cut and whole-head lettuce stays fresh for longer,” he explains. Breeding the Knox trait into our lettuce varieties extends the shelf life and therefore contributes to reducing food waste in the value chain.
Smaller vegetables for smaller households
“Consumer research has revealed an ongoing trend towards smaller households and therefore a need for smaller pack sizes to reduce food waste,” says Heleen Bos, Specialist Marketing Organics at Rijk Zwaan. One aim of the breeding programmes at Rijk Zwaan is therefore to develop smaller vegetable varieties. “Breeding smaller vegetable varieties may sound simple, but not every vegetable variety is suitable for this. Nevertheless, our breeding experts have succeeded in developing a number of vegetable varieties, such as conical cabbage, broccoli and aubergine, that meet all our quality requirements and are also smaller. This is one way we are responding to consumer needs and helping to reduce food waste in the home.” These smaller vegetables are also perfect for inclusion in meal kits, which are becoming increasingly popular in various markets, especially Australia and Europe.
Vegetable varieties with strong resistances
Resistance breeding is one of the key elements of vegetable breeding, and is also very relevant in the context of food loss and waste. “Plant diseases and pests are often a major cause of food losses, especially in developing countries. Complete harvests can fail. That’s why plants that are naturally resilient and resistant against plant diseases are very important,” explains Joke Klap, Phytopathology Researcher at Rijk Zwaan. “Our seeds are at the very start of the food chain and play a vital role in sustainable food production,” she adds. Are you interested in learning more about how phytopathology research is contributing to the development of resilient and robust vegetable varieties? Read the story of Joke.
The International Year of Fruit and Vegetables
By officially declaring 2021 to be the International Year of Fruit and Vegetables, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) hopes to generate more awareness for the important role of fresh produce in people’s diets. It will also increase the focus on how the fruit and vegetable sector is helping to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, such as ‘Zero Hunger’. As a vegetable breeding company, we wholeheartedly support this campaign. If you are keen to discover more about the role breeding plays in ensuring that fresh and appealing vegetables are available for people worldwide, take a look at https://www.rijkzwaan.com/international-year-fruit-vegetables.