WHY ARE TROPICAL FRUITS IMPORTANT?
Tropical fruits are defined as fruits that are grown in hot and humid regions within the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, covering most of the tropical and subtropical areas of Asia, Africa, Central America, South America, the Caribbean and Oceania.
Tropical fruits have always been part of the rural landscape of these regions, with the sole purpose of providing food and nutrition. Regular consumption of a variety of fruits is recommended by FAO and the World Health Organisation (WHO) for a well-balanced diet and for avoiding cardiovascular problems, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Fruits such as bananas, breadfruit and jackfruit have been used as staples in Asian, African and Asia Pacific countries, to complement other grain or root crops.
Due to the increasing demand over the years, some of the popular fruit types gradually developed from subsistence level to ones that can generate income. This includes the globally traded major tropical fruits such as bananas, mangoes, pineapples, avocadoes and papayas.
Other fruits which are now grown commercially include guava, rambutan, durian, jackfruit, pitaya and passion fruit.
Besides providing nutrition to farming families, cultivating tropical fruits is an important income generating activity for them as it improves the local economy.
Tropical fruits are inexpensive which makes it another export option for producers intending to diversify exports. There is already an uptrend in the demand for tropical fruits in domestic and export markets, especially from consuming countries such as USA, EU, Korea and Japan.
Smallholders including farming families produce about 80 % of global tropical fruit. In 2014, world production of tropical fruit reached 82 million tons according to estimates by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
In most tropical fruit producing countries, farmers are now more commercial, growing more marketable fruit types rather than just for food. Processed products such as purees, chips, pickles, powder and dried fruits are also being produced to minimize wastage during seasonal glut.
Tropical fruits provide nutrition for health and wellbeing as well as generate income for smallholders. Tropical fruit is in the forefront to compete with other fruit types, as the expanding number of middle class consumers tend to be more selective in their preference for exotic and tasty fruits.
Tropical fruits also play the important role of providing nutrition and balanced diet to curb obesity and other ailments. This is in line with the Millennium Development Goals in mitigating hidden hunger.