How apple growers are regaining control of the supply chain from retailers
Apples are one of the world’s most popular fruits. In 2013 world production reached almost 82 million tonnes and the export value broke US$8 billion (FAO STAT, 2017). The fruit comes in all shapes, sizes, flavours and colours; yet what we see in the supermarkets is a mere snapshot of the diversity that exists. The apple market is predominately controlled by retailers who demand strict uniformity in both colour and size of apples from growers, who are encouraged to produce commercial varieties on a large scale, which are then sold on to consumers at low cost.
Diversity within maize. Image source: Sam Fentress, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1293212
16 October is World Food Day (#WFD2016); this year’s theme is ‘Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.’ Jennifer Cunniff, plant scientist in CABI’s editorial team looks at how harnessing crop diversity is vital for us to meet the challenge.
Of the wide variety of edible plant species growing on our planet it’s amazing how few of them we actually include in our diet. Around 30 000 edible plant species are known, yet only 30 of these feed the world, and we are heavily reliant on a handful of cereals – rice, bread wheat, maize, millets and sorghum – provide 60% of the energy intake of the world population (FAO). This narrowing of our food base largely started with the advent of farming – before then, there is plentiful archaeological evidence that shows we were foraging across a much wider breadth of plant species (e.g. Weiss et al. 2004; Fairbairn et al. 2006). Once we formed settled societies we began to focus on crops that offered the best level of return and were best adapted to the cultivated environments we created. Furthermore, even though multiple accessions1 of our widely grown cereal species exist (naturally and through breeding) only a few dozen are grown on a wide scale. This strategy has consequences – genetic variability for adaptation to future climate change is lost.
1 A single collected variety or cultivar. It could be a wild variety, a landrace or a bred cultivar.
A young man in drought conditions in Ethiopia (Author: USAID African Bureau)
We are all told to improve our diet; increasing our fruit and vegetable consumption and reducing our red meat intake. But a new study, ‘Global and regional health effects of future food production under climate change; a modelling study,’ published in The Lancet has revealed that climate change may make eating our 5 a day more challenging, and that subsequent dietary shifts and changes in body weight will lead to more than half a million additional deaths worldwide by 2050.