UN: Growing threat to food from decline in biodiversity

A study by the United Nations indicates that plants, animals and microorganisms that form the solid basis for food production are declining.

The report says that if these critical species are lost, they "put the future of our diet under severe threat."

The study says that changes in land use, pollution and climate change all cause loss of biodiversity.

As eco-friendly policies grow, they do not grow fast enough, scientists say.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which collected the report using data collected in ninety one countries, says it is the first such study.
What exactly is biodiversity for food and agriculture?
This is essentially the diversity of plants, animals and other living organisms, whether wild or domesticated, that provide us with food, fuel and fiber.

This includes living organisms that provide basic services, such as bees, other pollinators, worms, mangroves, seaweeds and fungi that maintain fertile soil and purify air and water.

Why is this new report important?
The report, entitled The State of the World's Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture, highlights two key messages.

The first is that the world relies on a smaller number of nutrients to feed an increasing population that is expected to rise to about 10 billion by 2050.

Of the 6,000 species of plants grown for food, only nine accounted for sixty six percent of total crop production. Animal production in the world depends on about forty species, with only a few meat, meat and eggs.
The second key point is that many of these species that support food and agriculture are under threat or decline. Nearly a thousand species of wild food, mainly plants, fish and mammals are decreasing in abundance.

"Biodiversity is critical to protecting global food security, promoting healthy and nutritious diets, improving rural livelihoods and enhancing the resilience of people and communities," said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

"We need to use biodiversity in a sustainable way so that we can respond better to the challenges of increasing climate change and food production in a way that does not harm our environment."

So what is the magnitude of our food threat?
According to the study, a lack of biodiversity could leave food production more vulnerable to shocks, such as disease and pest outbreaks.

The report highlights what could happen in the worst-case scenario, such as Irish potato famine in the 1840s.
Irish tenant farmers also used their land to grow grain primarily to pay rent, increasingly relying on potatoes as their main source of income.

When a disease caused by the potato crop destroyed several years in a row, this led to the death of one million people from hunger and disease.
While nothing can be predicted on the scale of famine, the new study highlights a number of examples where the loss of biodiversity affects people's lives and diets.

The Gambia says major losses in wild foods have forced local communities to use artificially processed foods to supplement their diets
Many countries including Ireland, Norway, Poland and Switzerland point to declines in bees.
In Oman, the loss of pollinator populations due to the severe heat associated with climate change has seen a decline in wild food, including figs and berries.
What is the reason for the decline?
The report says there are many important causes or drivers of biodiversity loss. The most important:

Changes in land and water use and management
Over-exploitation and over-harvesting
Climate change
Population growth and urbanization
"We believe that large-scale farming expansion in the tropics and sub-tropical regions would account for 40 percent of forest losses between 2010 and 2015," said Julie Bellanger, who coordinated the report to FAO.

"Other major negative factors reported by countries include climate change, pollution, inappropriate use of inputs as well as over-exploitation."

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