published on 25 February 2019 in life

FAO Report on biodiversity, agriculture threatened

FAO, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, has recently published the first report on the State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture, to inform the world that biodiversity, on which our agriculture and our food systems is based, is disappearing. This threatens our ability to product the food required to feed humanity, to guarantee everyone the means of subsistence, to safeguard health and protect the environment, with consequences that are potentially irreversible.

FAO explains that “biodiversity for food and agriculture means all the plants and animals (wild and domesticated) that provide food, animal foodstuff, fuel and fibres. And also the multitude of organisms that support food production systems through eco-systemic services (known as ‘associated biodiversity’). These include all the plants, animals and micro-organisms (insects, bats, birds, mangroves, coral reefs, marine plants, earthworms, fungi, bacteria) that keep soil fertile, pollinate plants, purify water and air, maintaining fishing and forest resources in good health, and help to control pests and diseases in crops and livestock.” It is a heritage which, once it is lost, can never be recovered.

The key factors of loss of biodiversity identified by FAO are changes in the use and management of soil and water, pollution, over-exploitation, climate changes, growth of population and urban spread.

Food production is based on a limited number of species, and it is therefore clear that loss of agricultural biodiversity may threaten global food security. Indeed, according to the report, less than 200 of the approximate total 6,000 species of cultivated plants make a substantial contribution to global food production. Of these, only 9 species account for 66% of total production. The data on livestock breeding are no better: the world production of livestock is based on around 40 animal species, with only a small group that provides the overwhelming majority of meat, milk and eggs. Of the 7,745 races of local (at country level) livestock reported, 26% is threatened with extinction. With regard to fishing, lastly, almost a third of the fish stock is over-fished, and over half has reached the limit of sustainability. Less biodiversity means that plants and animals are more vulnerable, and this is why sustainable systems, able to respond to the growing challenges posed by climate changes and pollution, must be adopted.

With the sponsorship of the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research
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