Kai Wirtz

Demand Without Supply

Life is full of paradoxes… We love fresh fruits and vegetables and have grown used to having access to them year round. I enjoy eating grapes in winter and mangoes any month in the year. We have become so accustomed to buy the fruits we want when we want them – we only need to walk to the nearest grocery or order online.

Yet the recently released Agbioinvestor Report by John Mcdougall confirms that in the last 20 years hazard based regulations have limited the technologies European farmers can use to ensure healthy yields, while retailers impose increasing requirements to locally grown and imported fresh fruits and vegetables. These two combined pose a threat to the long-term availability and economics of fresh food supply in Western Europe.

But don’t take me at face value; let’s look at what the data and analysts are telling us.

The World Bank reported that the import of fresh fruits and vegetables in the EU is growing faster than the production which has remained at the same or lower levels of production, and is not in a position to increase. Conversely other regions in the world have seen the agricultural sector grow exponentially. This is because farmers in Europe have seen their tool set limited and with it their ability to run a profitable business.

Agricultural technology has been the driver of the increased productivity through the launch of new products in many parts of the world. However, in the EU political decisions such as the recent genetic editing ruling are having an impact on the number of registrations and in the current environment most likely will lead to further reductions of crop protection products and seeds in the region. These trends that limit innovation are also having a negative impact on productivity.

Kai Wirtz
Kai Wirtz
Kai Wirtz,
Global Crop Manager Fruit, Bayer
World fruit map: Import and export markets
World fruit map: Import and export markets
Rabobank World Fruit Map - 2018

EU is dependent on imports, particularly northern countries where climate and soil factors inhibit growing certain fruits and vegetables; as well as societal desired to have access to their favorite fresh fruits year round. Contrary to consumers demand, regulations and certifications are making the market less appealing than other growing economies to exporters. A Rabobank Study confirms there has been an increase in international fresh fruit exports (nearly 7% a year over the last decade) and while Germany is among the main import markets in relative terms, emerging markets like China and India are becoming more important in the global fruit market and the trade is moving to those markets to place their production.

It is time to put some sense into our discussions. If we want to continue to enjoy a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables every day of the year; we need regulations that provide access to innovation and technology to growers in Europe to enable having healthy businesses. Additionally, certifications and requirements to exporters have to make the European market attractive for them to continue serving the continent.

As consumers, we need to understand that the quality and accessibility to the fresh fruits and vegetables we demand and enjoy has a cost and we should be willing to pay the price. Otherwise we will be going back to a time where the seasonality of the production and harvest, as well as climate and soil characteristics determine the choices we have. The exotic fruits we have incorporated in our diets and take for granted, might not be found in the shelves of our groceries. Farmers are adopting new technologies and innovations to ensure a sound business and to deliver to the marketplace what it demands. Let’s see together that the tasty and nutritious food we can enjoy continues to reach our tables.

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