Have you ever wondered how much waste and by-products are derived from agricultural production? Imagine the volume of fruits and vegetables produced in Mexico alone, it seems like a lot, doesn't it? To give us an idea, Mexico cultivates 20.7 million hectares, which produced 262.5 million tons of agricultural products, making it the eleventh largest crop producer in the world.
Mexico is the world's leading producer of avocado and blackberry; second of green chili, lemon, and raspberry; third of asparagus, safflower, papaya, and strawberry; a fourth of broccoli, cauliflower, and grapefruit; and a fifth of zucchini, cucumber, and orange.
Undoubtedly, high production volumes release tons of waste, which, at the end of the harvest, is usually wasted: leaves, stems, and roots. This biomass is made up of solid residues that pollute irrigation water, and even more so if they are combusted, as they can generate serious environmental and public health problems. In addition, their disposal in landfills leads to the appearance and proliferation of noxious fauna and a foul odor, altering the surrounding plant communities.
It has also been reported that if cattle consume it ad libitum, it can cause metabolic imbalances, as well as possible intoxication if the material is contaminated with pesticides. There are also landscape and economic impacts because regulations and management systems require an organic waste management program that, if not complied with, can prevent the export of the products.
All this contributes to the concept established by the FAO known as Food loss and waste, which undermines the food security of the population, since it is the result of the decisions and actions of those in charge of food supply, including primary production.
So what can we do with agricultural residues? For decades, the scientific and technological community has been concerned about providing a sustainable and efficient solution to this environmental problem, and several solutions have emerged, including the following:
Extraction of phytochemicals with bioactive activities for both public health and plant safety.
Extraction of oils and fatty acids
Biofuel and biofertilizer generation
Development of biochemicals and biopolymers.
Agroindustrial linkages are vital for this to take place on a large scale. Currently, in the Culiacán Regional Coordination of the Food and Development Research Center, specifically in the Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals Research Group, projects are being carried out to valorize agricultural by-products with a focus on public health, where the aim is to link the social, environmental and scientific factors to provide feasible solutions to the local population.