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First world report on the state of biodiversity for food and agriculture

Photograph : Boris Smokrovic

In February, the FAO (the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) published a new type of report on the state of the biodiversity of our food systems , on the basis of data supplied by 91 countries. The result is frightening: this biodiversity is disappearing and once lost, can never be recovered. There is still time to reverse the trend!

The biodiversity underpinning our food systems is vanishing

The report confirms the slump in plant and animal diversity: among the 6,000 and more species of plants cultivated for food, fewer than 200 contributed significantly to world food production and only 9 represented 66% of total agricultural production. Of the 7,745 breeds of cattle identified by country around the world, 26% are threatened with extinction. Nearly a third of fish stocks are overexploited.

“Associated biodiversity”, i.e. organisms that sustain food production by providing ecosystemic services, is also under threat. Sea prairies, coral reefs, mangroves, forests and wetlands are in decline. The numbers of insects, bats and birds, which regulate parasites and diseases, are also falling. Likewise, for butterflies and bees, which play a vital role as pollinators.

This loss of biodiversity can be explained by several factors, including changes in the utilisation and management of land and water, pollution, overexploitation and over-fishing, climate change, demographic growth and urbanisation.

Reversing the trend

There’s much to be done to put an end to the erosion of this biodiversity: stricter application of environmental rights; improving knowledge; better collaboration between decision-makers, the private farming sector, the environment and civil society, etc. A flicker of hope can be found in the growing interest of countries for more biodiversity-friendly practices, such as agroforestry, ecological agriculture and ecosystem restoration, which are increasing. Efforts to conserve nature (protected areas, gene banks, etc.) are also gaining ground. These practices are encouraging but, unfortunately, they are not enough.

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