The story of Abdullah
Fresh fruit and vegetables in the Middle East and North Africa
Rising temperatures, declining soil quality and the scarcity of fresh water are all challenges that will intensify for growers in the Middle East and North Africa over the coming decade. Abdullah Sa’sa, Rijk Zwaan Business Manager Middle East & North Africa, shares details of how vegetable varieties that are more resilient to those external factors can contribute to the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables – not only in the short term, but also in the longer term as the effects of climate change become increasingly apparent.
Healthy and sustainable diet
“In the Middle East and North Africa, vegetables are a natural part of people’s diet and are eaten during every meal: breakfast, lunch and in the evening,” says Abdullah. He adds that consumers are becoming ever-more aware of the importance of a healthy and sustainable diet and the role that fruits and vegetables play in providing essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fibre: “At the same time, the region’s population is growing, which is why demand for fresh fruits and vegetables in the Middle East and North Africa is expected to increase.”
Challenges for growers: water, soil and labour
Most of the vegetables in the Middle East and North Africa are grown outdoors or in low-tech or mid-tech greenhouses. “Due to climate change, and because of soil salinisation and the reduced availability of fresh water, growers are facing many challenges in their efforts to guarantee a continuous supply of good-quality vegetables and generate a stable income for themselves,” comments Abdullah. “A shortage of labour is another challenge for them.”
Resilient vegetable varieties
As a vegetable breeding company, Rijk Zwaan develops vegetable varieties that can grow in various climate zones and are more resilient to external factors such as drought and plant diseases. We aim to provide solutions to challenges faced by growers and other chain partners. Abdullah shares some examples: “For the Middle East and North Africa, we offer varieties with more resistances and we are working to develop varieties that are suitable for hydroponic cultivation, i.e. not in soil. Water-based growing systems support more efficient use of water and nutrients in lettuce production, and require little or no use of crop protection agents.”
Improved shelf life
Besides that, vegetable varieties with a longer shelf life have added value over traditional varieties, continues Abdullah: “The harvested vegetables often have to be shipped over long distances to the main markets and temperature-controlled transport is rare. In those situations, shelf life is extra important to prevent food losses.” These are just some examples of how vegetable breeding efforts can help to safeguard the availability and accessibility of fresh and nutritious food worldwide.
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.