Agrobiodiversity

So far scientists have identified about 1,4 million animal and plant species on Earth and almost every day a new species joins this list. This variety of life forms is crucial for human beings. We depend on it for food, healing substances, water, energy and much more. Biodiversity, though, is increasingly threatened by human pressure, as the world population is in continuous increase and by the decay of natural ecosystems caused by human activities. Wild species risk extinction if the habitats where they live are harassed by pollution, urbanization, and deforestation. This destructive process can be hurried by negative management of agriculture, forests and ichthyic supplies. Agricultural biodiversity is represented by an innumerable quantity of plants which are necessary to feed and heal human beings. Biodiversity is found among the variety of cultivations with specific nutritional characteristics, breeds of cattle that have adapted to hostile environments, insects pollinating fields, micro-organisms regenerating agricultural soils. But also agricultural biodiversity is in danger.
Human beings, infact, depend on a number of agricultural products which is increasingly reducing to eat and this lowers the prospect of some cultivated plants and bred animals to have the capacity to adapt to drastic environmental changes. About ten thousand years ago, on the basis of nature’s biodiversity, human beings started to collect seeds and wild plants and grow them, choosing the most productive species or the most resistant to adverse climatic conditions. More or less during the same period, humans started to tame also animals, exploiting their strength, eating their meet and drinking their milk. Even today genetic diversity is essential for the global agricultural production to keep being sustainable.
Farmers and agronomists, infact, need genetic diversity to help plants adapt to variable life conditions or to expand production in new areas which haven’t yet been cultivated. Genetic diversity of plants (defined as plant genetics) is crucial to enhance yields and have cultivations producing both more food and food with higher nutritional value. Today, four plant species alone – wheat, corn, rice and potatoes – provide more than half of the vegetable calories of the human diet, whilst about dozen animal species provide 90% of global animal protein consumption. Besides the diversity of species used for nutritional purposes, it’s fundamental to maintain genetic diversity within each species: many farmes have adopted uniform potato seeds and animal breeds which give greater returns. When diversity is abandoned, though, variety and races can become extinct along with their specific features. The push for an increase in agricultural production and higher profits, infact, has oriented the choice to a limited number of plant species and animal races which give great returns. This is another legacy of the “green revolution”: many farmers, instead of cultivating a wide selection of plants, as in the past, have concentrated on one single culture, which is called monoculture, expecting higher returns and substantially reducing global agricultural biodiversity. Monoculture plants are often hybrid varieties crossbred from original species. A better variety produces more so that farmers have no need to plant older varieties which slowly disappear. Farmers opting for traditional agriculture, instead, tended to cultivate an ample variety of plants and often also raised cattle. Since the beginning of monoculture farming most traditional agricultural practices have been abandoned. A high number of types of plants and animal races have silently disappeared. This disappearance is known as “extinction” and is irreversible. Agriculture, therefore, is losing its capacity to adapt to environmental changes, as global warming or new harmful insects and illnesses. If current food availability isn’t able to adapt to environmental mutations, we could find ourselves in deep trouble. It’s extremely important to protect these resources and be sure they’re used sustainably. Farmers, as guardians of the planet’s biodiversity, have the chance to cultivate and maintain local trees and plants and provide for the reproduction of native animals, ensuring their survival. The loss of biodiversity, though, doesn’t concern agriculture alone. Forests are probably the most important deposit of biological diversity, although every year we lose thousands of hectares of forest cover. Oceans, lakes, and rivers of the planet swarm with life but over-exploitation and fishing methods which are harmful for the environment threaten aquatic biodiversity. Experts are seriously worried about this rapid reduction of genetic reserves. Drawing from a wide range of unique features allows to select plants and animals capable of responding to mutations in their condition.
Moreover, this provides scientists the raw material they need to develop more productive and resistant types of cultivations and breeds. For poor farmers, biodiversity can really be the best defense against famine: infact, in the regions of the world where subnutrition levels are higher, farmers need cultivations which grow well in difficult and adverse climatic conditions rather than types giving high yields under favourable conditions or smaller-sized animals but which are more resistants to illnesses. Even consumers, both in developed and developing countries, benefit from the availability of a great range of plants and animals because this contributes substantially to a nutrient diet: rural communities often have limited access to markets and, for this reason, availability of a wider range of local food becomes essential. Preserving plants, animals and their habitat in the end means safeguarding a series of essential functions which nature supplies. International commitment to preserve plants and animals in genetic banks and botanic and zoological gardens is crucially important. The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture has been adopted to defend this precious heritage and has been enforced on June, 29 2004. The soil, thanks to the silent and constant work of insects, bacteria, mushrooms, and worms becomes fertile and farmers can cultivate food. Livestock, mushrooms and micro-organisms break down organic material transferring nutrient elements to the earth. Ants and other insects keep parasites under control. Bees, butterflies, birds and bats pollinate fruit trees. Swamps and lakes filter polluting agents. Forests prevent floods and limit erosion. Intact ocean ecosystems help keeping ichthyic resources healthy and constant over time thus ensuring the possibility of fishing for future generations.

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  • energy

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    space

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  • life

    Adaptation of plants

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    life

    African Penguins

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  • ecosystems

    Anemone

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    ecosystems

    Bedouin of the Egyptian desert

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  • energy

    Modern agriculture

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  • space

    Cold and heat on the Earth

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