Three reasons to protect agricultural biodiversity

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

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Durum wheat variety, Ethiopia. Credit: Bioversity International

Even though new species are being discovered every day, one in five plants are threatened with extinction, according to the first annual State of the world’s plants, 2016 published by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in May 2016. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the largest threats facing these endangered plant species are the conversion of land for agriculture and biological resource use – the deliberate or unintentional consumption of a ‘wild’ species. Indeed, agriculture has been identified as the main threat to 85% of all threatened species, plant and animal, on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. For example, the growth of palm oil plantations has led to significant losses of natural forests and peatlands, with accompanying impacts on biodiversity.

Agricultural biodiversity, defined by Bioversity International as “the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms that are used directly or indirectly for food and agriculture,” is facing serious decline. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) some 75% of genetic diversity has been lost since the 1900s. There are several causes of this loss of diversity, but the main reasons are ease of production and changes in consumer expectations and preferences, leading to an ever greater uniformity in the end product. If the produce is what people want to buy and it’s easy to produce why should it matter if there is less biodiversity? Here are three, of many, reasons why it is of paramount importance:

  1. Genetic diversity is important for an uncertain future
varieties of quinoa credit FAOALC

Several different varieties of quinoa grown in Peru. Credit, FAO

Genetic diversity in agricultural systems may be lost if species go extinct or different varieties of a species fall out of favour. If this happens, genes that are important for resistance to pests or diseases, confer tolerance to changing weather patterns and extreme weather events, or make the crop nutritious, may be lost. Even if these traits are not evident or useful now, the advantage they confer may be valuable for future generations, and may be difficult or impossible to recreate once they are gone. Indeed, work by Bioversity International highlights how the wild relatives of cultivated crops are already becoming increasingly important in the search for traits that farmers can use to improve domesticated varieties through crossbreeding. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Tropical forests illegally destroyed for commercial agriculture, The Guardian

FAO food price index drops to four-year low, FAO

Rise in greenhouse-gas concentrations continues at alarming rate, Nature

How will the new EU team line up on GMOs, TTIP and energy?, Ecologist

Agricultural revolution in Africa could increase global carbon emissions, Purdue University

Demand for agricultural products drives ‘shock’ tree loss in tropical forests, BBC

Women are much more powerful in agriculture than you might think, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Plant diversity in China vital for global food security, University of Birmingham

Amazon deforestation jumps 29%, The Guardian

Report: A new approach to governing GM crops? Lessons from Brazil, Mexico and India, University of Durham

Harmonizing crop trait data: Crop Ontology, Bioversity International

Corporate influence through the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa, Wolfgang Obenland

Field trial of Xanthomonas wilt disease-resistant bananas in East Africa, Nature [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

How economic growth has become anti-life, The Guardian

Group claims GMOs failed to deliver promised benefits, Inquirer News

Orange Sweet Potato One of the Most Innovative Ways to Feed the Planet, Says USAID Administrator, HarvestPlus

A YOUng FARMer’s vision, PAEPARD

UK agricultural research aid should do more for poor farmers, says watchdog, The Guardian

Yields of new varieties of agricultural crops continue to increase, Wageningen University

The Idealist: a brilliant, gripping, disturbing portrait of Jeffrey Sachs, From Power to Poverty, Duncan Green

Three Billion Poor People Are Waiting for Business to Reinvent Itself, The Business Solution to Poverty

Science has bigger say in GM food, China Daily

How African innovation can take on the world, PC Tech Magazine

Have a Coke and a … GMO?, Politico

Landscapes debate could reinvigorate UN climate talks in Warsaw – negotiator, CIFOR, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Traditional innovation in farming is under threat, IIED

End Of The Egg? ‘Fake Egg’ Company Aims To Replace 79 Billion Chicken Eggs Laid Each Year, Civil Eats

How to end world hunger, CNN

 

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Rising to the Challenge: Changing Course to Feed the World in 2050, Action Aid

Commentary: And the prize goes to … genetically modified foods, Global Post

No scientific consensus on safety of genetically modified organisms, Phys.org

Biofuel not off the hook for ‘land grabs’, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Commentary – Technological innovation for small-plot farms, Global Food for Thought

Why does climate change adaptation in Africa ignore politics? Great broadside from Matthew Lockwood, From Poverty to Power

Genetically modified crops should be part of Africa’s food future, The Washington Post

Retailers urged to accept more ‘ugly fruit’ to reduce food waste, Farmers Guardian

Seeking sustainable crops, Science on the Land

New Effort Launched to Measure and Monitor Global Food Loss and Waste, UNEP [Read more…]

Food systems for human consumption

ID-10034891Over the next 50 or so years the population is predicted to rise to over 9 billion, an addition of 2 billion people to the planet. Understandably this raises concerns as to how the resources of the planet, not least food, will stretch to meet the growing demand. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations estimates food production will need to  increase 70 to 100%  by 2050. In a new paper entitled, Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare, authors Cassidy et al investigated how our current food production systems could be adapted to feed more people.

Increasingly crops grown are being used to feed livestock and as sources of fuel, uses that can divert food away from the human food chain. Some 36% of the calories produced from crops are used for animal feed of which 12% contributes to human diets, and 4% of human calories are used for biofuel production. The latter proportion has increased four-fold between 2000 and 2010 and looks set to rise further. The study asked the question, how many more people could be fed if crops were only grown for human consumption?

Through mapping the extent, productivity and end use of 41 major agricultural crops, which account for over 90% of total calorie production in the world, the authors were able to identify the gaps between human calorie requirements (taken as 2,700 calories per day) and crop production, now and in the future.

The paper reports significant inefficiencies in the food system. If the current crops being grown were used exclusively for human consumption, our food systems could feed an additional 4 billion people. As the authors state, however, changing the allocation of crops in terms of their end use is only one potential solution but one which when combined with efforts to increase crop yields and to reduce food waste could amount to a substantial solution to the world’s food needs.

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Improving Crop Yields in a World of Extreme Weather Events, University of California, Riverside

Maps reveal ‘hidden hunger’ that stifles development, SciDev.Net

Africa can follow Brazil’s lead in battle to eradicate hunger, says Lula, The Guardian

 Investing in smallholder agriculture for food security, The High Level Panel of Experts of Food Security and Nutrition

FACT SHEET: Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa, The White House

Women’s Empowerment in Kenya, A Global Village

World hunger reduction: Missed goals and incomplete strategies, Policy Pennings

U.S. Approves a Label for Meat From Animals Fed a Diet Free of Gene-Modified Products, The New York Times

Europe should rethink its stance on GM crops, Nature

GM crops won’t help African farmers, The Guardian

The True Deservers of a Food Prize, The New York Times

First Ever Report on Global School Feeding Launched in US, Home Grown School Feeding

Non-GM farming in Europe ‘outperforms’ GM farming in US, Public Service Europe

Food Security Strategy Group, The Aspen Institute

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Let’s tackle inequality head on for development after the MDGs, The Guardian

USAID, AfDB, Government of Sweden Announce Agriculture Fast Track, USAID

Forests and food security: back on the global agenda, Thomson Reuters Foundation

The ‘superwheat’ that boosts crops by 30%: Creation of new grain hailed as biggest advance in farming in a generation, The Daily Mail

Managing food price instability: Critical assessment of the dominant doctrine, Galtier, F. 2013

Adesina’s Brazil visit, agricultural transformation agenda and the farmers, Peoples Daily

High-tech: The best solution to take farming to the next level, The Citizen

Food aid for the 21st century (Opinion), Chicago Tribune

What will it take for policymakers to act on climate change?, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Cambridge-based scientists develop ‘superwheat’, BBC News