Growing incomes and healthy lives
Since the 1970s, growth in the horticultural subsector has outpaced many other agricultural commodities. Rising incomes, urbanization, and increased knowledge of better health practices have increased world consumption of fruits and vegetables. The United States, the European Union, and Japan are the world’s leading importers of horticultural products with demand being met in large part from production in Latin America and increasingly from Asia and Africa, as these tropical and sub-tropical locations easily supply products during the northern countries’ winter seasons.
Enhancing the production and marketing of high value horticultural crops provides an opportunity to diversify smallholder incomes and the range of micronutrient foods available to the rural poor. Horticultural crops are suitable for smallholder farmers because farmers can grow significant horticultural yields on small plots. Significant spillovers exist through the development of associated agribusiness development services (e.g., inputs and infrastructure) to support production and through employment generation in processing and value-addition.
For women in particular, horticultural development offers opportunities to expand their incomes at multiple levels of the value chain. Because the crops can be grown on small plots, they are particularly suited to women farmers who have access to limited amounts of land. They also make up a significant majority of labor used to process and package fruits and vegetables. A still small but growing number of women are involved as farm owners and managers of horticultural agribusinesses of various types.
Horticulture plays a critical role in alleviating nutritional deficiencies in the developing world. Fruits and vegetables provide a simple solution to channeling key nutrients such as iron, zinc, Vitamin A and C, and essential fatty acids to the world’s poor. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides more nutrients than other crops. Green leafy vegetables for example have more iron than legumes.
Successful expansion of horticultural development depends largely on access to and knowledge of production techniques, post-harvest handling practices, and end markets. In particular, smallholder farmers face a number of barriers to enter horticultural value chains. To meet these challenges, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Horticulture (2010-2015) focuses on innovation, information accessibility, and gender equity to realize the opportunity that horticultural development offers to reduce poverty, improve the nutrition and health of the rural poor, and enhance the sustainability and profitability of horticulture in the developing world. It is the first Innovation Lab to specifically target horticultural production and marketing.