Indigenous Fruit

June 7, 2024

Could the organic farming of indigenous fruit be the answer to the world's primary economic needs?

Social conscious brands are tapping into ultra-local botanicals to help convey indigenous stories while providing economic growth to local communities. Educated consumers now have the opportunity to make their contribution by making sustainable purchases and voting with their money. Indigenous ingredients have a competitive advantage in a saturated market. Companies that can harvest and package indigenous ingredients will have strong selling points. 

What is even considered a fruit? 

Well, it depends on who you ask.

Botanists, linguists, culinary professionals, legal professionals, and consumers all have different definitions of fruits. Period and place are the most critical factors of this matter.

  1. Scientific classification - fruits result in flowers or have pits/seeds/stones.
  2. Culinary application - fruits are dessert (sweet).

For this conversation, we will talk about fruit in its scientific form. Keep in mind its culinary application is what drives demand!

Global trade demands a small number of crops. This demand limits local, heirloom, & extinct varieties. Yet, the future of small growers is connected to consumers wanting unusual fruit with solid ties to indigenous cultures. It isn't clear which system will ultimately dominate. 

We at Journey Foods believe in existing, indigenous, and heirloom fruit. We're fans of new flavors and new cuisines. We need to grow and eat the fruit we want to save or revive. 

Hundreds of species remain in jungles and forests, some you find at markets in rural villages. The future of fruit could emerge from several poorly cataloged regions, such as pockets of Africa, particularly West Africa, rural Indonesia, Malaysia, and China. Many fruits of the Indian subcontinent are largely unknown in the west. Scaling a wild crop, making it more flavorful and more reliable, requires a heavy financial commitment. Simultaneously, the domestication of wild fruits has caused extinction beyond molecular biology repair. Therefore the key to ingredient diversity is balance. 

Diversity and Balance

Since the start of the twentieth century, roughly 90% of crop diversity has been lost. Indigenous peoples and cultures have been decimated! Thousands of fruit species have been extensively collected, stored in seed banks, and genetically modified for profit. The US has twenty registered seed banks, and globally, over 1000 seed banks are reserving over a million species. These collections are considered a valuable treasure to a nation's identity. 

Agricultural politics control what crops are mass-produced, only available by local farmers, and what species are kept secret in vaults. New technologies help governments decide what species they will supplement for cultivation and what ones they will continue to collect for research. 

Fruit Resurrection! ...and the Future

Gene-editing technology and advances in recovering DNA have allowed the industry to resurrect extinct foods. 

I.E., | CRISPR (e.g., clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/Cas9) gene-editing technology can enhance global agriculture and food security. Simultaneously, CRISPR deals with extensive legal, regulatory, and financial challenges. According to CRISPR/Cas, gene-editing technology can potentially increase plant/crop yields and quality, plant drought resistance, herbicide and insecticide resistance, improved food safety and security, enhance the removal of antibiotic resistance (AMR), improve product shelf life, and can potentially accelerate the process of plant domestication. 

"Plant breeding innovation holds enormous promise for helping protect crops against drought and diseases while increasing nutritional value and eliminating allergens," Perdue said. "Using this science, farmers can continue to meet consumer expectations for healthful, affordable food produced in a manner that consumes fewer natural resources. This innovation will help farmers do what we aspire to do at USDA: do right and feed everyone." (USDA/APHIS)

The USDA, Environmental Protection Agency EPA, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will loosen regulations on new food and agricultural technologies like CRISPR.

Fred B. Schneider, an American computer scientist, based at Cornell University, says,  "Many people would agree that we need to move to a more diverse, more sustainable agriculture system. We can't put all our hope into a single, genetically identical crop." Monoculture, the practice of fostering just one variety of something, has pros and cons. The entire system is standard, so there are rarely new production and maintenance processes, and everything is compatible and familiar to users. On the other hand, as banana farmers learned, in a monoculture, all instances are prone to the same set of attacks. If someone or something figures out how to affect just one, the entire system is put at risk."

According to the U.S. Apple Association, there are roughly 100 varieties of apples grown commercially in the country. But, as horticulturist Susan Brown of Cornell University's apple-breeding program tells Newsweek, 14,000 different types once existed here.

Biodiversity is rapidly declining, causing us to lose the ability to repair existing crops and create new ones. Global biodiversity is spread sporadically. Alpine zones, mountain regions, and tropical forests are hotspots. Climate change pushes species into new ranges, ever farther from the equator, as plants migrate to keep up with their preferred climatic conditions.

Imagine a treasure hunt. The earth is covered in interesting plants, and some are unbelievably useful. New foods wait somewhere over the horizon, still to be discovered. They are the ancestors of our current crops, and we turn to these wild relations when we need to breed a new cultivar to resist disease or pests. Innovations will allow us to combine collected seeds and wild genes to revive indigenous fruit.  

We believe the future food industry will continue producing sustainable high-yield crops for profit. It's possible to revive indigenous fruit if the private and public sectors join forces financially, legally, logistically, and culturally. Introducing indigenous fruits using plant breeding innovation could be positive for local economies and our ecosystem. Organic farming could provide the jobs and economic needs the world desperately needs! 

Consumer-packaged good players will need to reassess their portfolios. Sustainable decisions will need to be made to meet demand in growing markets, channels, and subcategories. This will lead to CPG growth in mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures while building the new base for portfolio composition. 

We’d love to hear from you!

If you have any questions or thoughts, throw them in the comments below. 

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