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FAO Warns on Global Biodiversity for Food & Agriculture

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A new report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has found that world food and agriculture faces a severe threat from declining biodiversity. The report – State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture – concludes that biodiversity for food and agriculture is indispensable to food sustainability and security as well as sustainable development and that more needs to be done internationally to safeguard biodiversity. 

FAO Warns on Global Biodiversity for Food & Agriculture

Global Factors

Based on information provided by 91 countries, the report discusses declining biodiversity and the impact this will have on food production and the issues it will create as the world’s human population continues to grow. It also notes the direct impact of environmental changes on agriculture and biodiversity, reiterating the importance of action to protect the natural environment. The impact of environmental changes such as climate change, and non-environmental issues like the expansion of international markets, receive particular attention as they give rise to additional challenges that threaten biodiversity. High rates of land-use change, pollution and the exploitation of natural resources all have a profound impact by exacerbating existing challenges facing our food and agriculture.

Through analysis of the data provided by participating countries, the FAO report has found that many of the key components of biodiversity are in decline, at a genetic, species and ecosystem level.

The Agriculture and Food Dimension

The report found that the proportion of livestock breeds facing extinction is increasing, with just 7% of the 7,745 identified local livestock breeds being considered ‘at no risk’. Also noted is the declining diversity of farmed crops – it is reported that just 9 of the 6,000-plus plant species cultivated for food account for 66% of the world’s total crop production.

This in turn links to another driver identified by the report as having a significant impact on biodiversity in food and agriculture - cultural shifts that are leading to changing diets. It is noted that changing diets have a direct impact on biodiversity loss. The process of urbanisation, globalisation and increasing purchasing power has, according to the report, led to a ‘homogenisation’ of our diets. We are relying on a much narrower variety of foods globally, which is having a direct impact on the biodiversity in agriculture and food systems. The nine plant species we primarily rely on – rice, wheat, potatoes, soybean, maize, cassava, sugar beet, sugar cane and oil-palm fruit – are generating new risks because the production of these plants is dependent on monocultures. The increasing dependence on a narrower variety of food of decreasing diversity means that a small shift in climate or disease outbreak has the potential to destroy large portions of the world’s food supply.

Impacts of Land Use Change

The report notes that the factor which has the most frequently reported negative impact is change in land and water use and management. According to data collected by the FAO, land and water use changes are having the single most significant impact on environmental degradation and biodiversity loss. As the demand for food increases, larger areas of land are being transformed, often prime forest, to produce food. Deforestation has far reaching impacts for biodiversity, with agriculture often a significant factor. Not only does the loss of forest significantly reduce the green space in many parts of the world, which plays an important role in carbon sequestration, it also has a direct impact on habitat and species loss. As we modify increasing areas of land and water to produce food, we risk reducing the biodiversity of the natural environment and the plant and animal life that our food production is dependent upon.

The report concludes that biodiversity in food and agriculture - and the ecosystem services it supports - plays a fundamental role in the resilience, sustainability and productivity of food and agriculture systems globally. The loss or reduction in biodiversity across the world will have a profound impact on these systems unless more effective and wide-reaching efforts are made to manage the issue.

Find out more

For more information about how ADAS can help to assess food and agriculture supply chain resilience to climate change, please contact our Head of Sustainable Food & Farming, Sarah Wynn, at sarah.wynn@adas.co.uk

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