UN warns that food system under severe threat due to shrinking biodiversity

22 February 2019, 08:50 | Updated: 22 February 2019, 09:32

A study carried out by the UN has warned that humanity's food supply it at risk if biodiversity in food and agriculture continues to shrink.

Diversity in food supplies protects against diseases or pests destroying particular crops which communities have become dependent upon.

However, out of more than 6,000 plant species cultivated for food, fewer than 200 make major contributions to food production, and only nine account for 66% of the world's total crop production.

Livestock production is in an equally imbalanced situation globally, with just a handful of species producing most of the world's meat, eggs, and milk.

This dependence on just a handful of key species could be disastrous if a disease were to damage the population or yield of one species of livestock or crop.

With the world's population expected to hit 9.8 billion within the next 30 years, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is warning that more must be done to ensure food security.

"Biodiversity for food and agriculture is indispensable to food security and sustainable development," said the report.

This extends beyond the livestock and crops being used, but also implementing policies which protect biodiversity at other levels of the supply chain, including pollinators like bees and animals like worms which maintain healthy soils.

The report warns that many of these species which support food and agriculture are declining - nearly a quarter of all food species in general.

"The loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture is seriously undermining our ability to feed and nourish an ever-growing global population," said the head of the organisation, Jose Graziano da Silva.

"We need to use biodiversity in a sustainable way, so that we can better respond to rising climate change challenges and produce food in a way that doesn't harm our environment," he added.

The FAO analysed data from 91 countries, finding "mounting evidence" the world's biodiversity was under "severe
threat" due to pollution, badly managed water and land use, poor policies, over harvesting and climate change.

It predicted that climate change will become a steadily bigger threat to biodiversity by 2050, adding to damage from pollution and deforestation to make way for more crops.

"Compounded by our reliance on fewer and fewer species to feed ourselves, the increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk," Graziano da Silva added.