OPINION: Rural NZ is again getting the rough end of the stick when it comes to services - this time in relation to Covid-19 vaccinations.
The Fruit and Vegetables in Schools (FIS) scheme has been running since 2008.
In July, United Fresh - a pan-industry body representing the entire sector supply chain - signed a new deal with the Ministry of Health.
United Fresh president Jerry Prendergast says the deal means 560 low decile schools around the country will continue to receive fresh produce every school day. He says this is 25% of all primary schools, with 124,000 students receiving over 27 million servings of of fresh fruit and vegetables each year.
"This United Fresh initiative funded by the Ministry of Health should not be underestimated for the huge impact it is having for NZ kids and our industry," says Prendergast.
He says FIS is working towards ending hunger, reducing inequality and improving health, wellbeing and education.
"FIS is an excellent example of a successful local response to a global issue."
The United Nations has declared 2021 as the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables (IYFV). Prendergast says IYFV is a great opportunity to continue the discussions that we need to have around providing accessible, nutritious food to all Kiwis.
FIS reaches every decile one and two school in NZ, more than any other food and nutrition health promotion initiative.
Prendergast says the IYFV highlights the critical contribution that the country's fresh produce industry makes to the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders.
"The fresh fruit and vegetables that our members produce provide the essential nutrients that help fuel our whole country," Prendergast says. "Eating at least five servings of fresh produce a day is an important part of a balanced, healthy lifestyle, even more so in Covid-19 times."
He believes the role of fruit and vegetables in supporting health is critical to our well-being, but adds that the fresh produce industry makes a significant contribution to the entire economy as a source of income and employment, particularly in our rural communities.
"Fruit and vegetable production has been a critical part of the New Zealand economy for more than a century. Now, more than ever, we need to ensure our produce is reaching all Kiwis," Prendergast explains.
"NZ's fresh produce growers are already working hard to adopt sustainable practices.
"The IYFV offers a platform for us to further the advances that we have made in improving our storage, transport and processing procedures to bring fruit and vegetables to market with as little environmental impact as possible."