The story of Jos
Innovative vegetable varieties help to improve food safety
Access to sufficient quantities of safe and nutritious food is key to sustaining life and promoting good health everywhere, and Asia is no exception. Food safety is a major topic in the region but vegetables are produced on numerous small farms, making traceability difficult. Many countries in Asia lack an effective control system, which means that consumers cannot be sure whether the vegetables have been grown safely. Jos van der Knaap, Crop Coordinator Lettuce in Asia, explains how vegetable breeding contributes to the availability of safe and nutritious vegetables in Asia and beyond.
Challenges in a tropical climate
“Growing vegetables in a tropical climate is not easy at any time, but especially not during the rainy season. As a result, there tends to be a major shortage of good-quality fresh vegetables at that time of year so consumers often have to pay much higher prices,” says Jos. Besides that, vegetables are often irrigated with polluted water, which increases the risk of contamination with bacteria such as E.coli. This is a particular issue in the case of lettuce because it is eaten raw. “In addition to the risk of bacterial contamination, there is also a higher chance of chemical residues caused by growers using pesticides too generously or incorrectly,” adds Jos.
Protected cultivation and non-soil-based growing are two solutions to improve food safety, explains Jos: “If plants are kept dry there is much less opportunity for fungi and bacteria to grow, so growers can reduce their use of pesticides. And if crop protection is necessary, it is more effective because the chemicals are not washed away when it rains. So even the use of simple rain shelters can significantly contribute to growing vegetables more safely.”
Non-soil-based growing helps to prevent soil-borne diseases. Jos shares some examples: “Crops like tomatoes, sweet peppers and cucumbers can be grown in polybags using clean and renewable media like coco coir or rice husk.”
One big advancement for lettuce is hydroponics, in which case plants are grown on a substrate rather than in soil. Hydroponic growing is cleaner and more sustainable, according to Jos: “Problems with fungus are rare because the air can circulate all around the plant, plus hydroponics makes it possible to grow lettuce without using crop protection agents.” Hydroponic production has really taken off in Asia and is rapidly becoming the preferred way of growing lettuce in many countries.
New and resistant vegetable varieties
Rijk Zwaan has developed many vegetable varieties that are specially adapted to these new ways of growing, such as varieties with more compact leaves and ones that set more easily in humid conditions. “Resistance breeding is very important to us. This helps the growers because they can rely on a strong crop and a secure yield. They can also limit their use of crop protection agents. Consequently, chain partners and consumers can depend on safe, clean and nutritious vegetables,” concludes Jos.
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.