World food supplies are said to be at risk, as a result of a sixth mass extinction of wildlife, as reported by TheGuardian.
A report into global food supplies has found that plant and animal species, which help make up the foundation of our food supplies, are endangered. The report also found that these species get little or no attention and this experts say puts global food supplies at great risk. This was confirmed by Ann Tutwiler, director general of the research group Bioversity International who published the report.
“Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply are just as endangered [as wildlife] and are getting almost no attention,” she told the Guardian.
She continued by stating the necessity to prevent their extinction, pointing out that they help supply over 7 billion people with food.
“If there is one thing we cannot allow to become extinct, it is the species that provide the food that sustains each and every one of the seven billion people on our planet,” she wrote in an article.
Before adding, “This ‘agrobiodiversity’ is a precious resource that we are losing, and yet it can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing. It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change.”
This report also stated that over three quarters of the world’s food supplies is gained from a total of 17 different species, 12 crops and 5 animals. This leaves us in a very vulnerable position, just as we were during the Potato famine where over one million people starved to death. This dependence on a small number of strains means that if all are wiped out in some sort of worldwide natural disaster, that food supplies would be almost eradicated.
There are alternatives though, with thousands of other species which are full of vital nutrients and haven’t been cultivated yet. These could not only provide food, but are more resistant to disease and tolerant to climate change. Though the damaging of natural habitats and wildlife due to pollution and hunting has led to yet another mass extinction commencing.
Animals are usually the ones who take the full focus, with many advertisements highlighting the need to protect endangered animals. Over half of these animals have been lost in the past 50 years, with this latest report stating that thousands of plant species are now endangered also.
Saving the biodiversity is described as vital by Ann Tutwiler, who said it is also important in helping tackle the world’s leading cause of death and disabilities, a poor diet. She said the battles against obesity and malnutrition are losing ones at the moment, adding that poor diets are as a result of a lack of diversity.
“We are not winning the battle against obesity and undernutrition...Poor diets are in large part because we have very unified diets based on a narrow set of commodities and we are not consuming enough diversity.”, said Ann Tutwiler.
The new report also laid out how the government and companies alike can help protect and make use of the large variety of food crops, which have yet to be properly utilised. The report cites the ‘gac’, a Vietnamese fruit, and the Asupina banana as examples of these. Both fruits have extremely high levels of beta-carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A.
Quinoa was also another mentioned in the report, with only a few out of over a thousand different varieties been cultivated on a regular basis. The report also showed how support enabled farmers in Peru to grow a tougher more nutritious variety of the crop, which will protect them from crop disease and weather damage.
The report also suggest that crops used on a vast scale could also benefit from biodiversity. This was proven by research carried out in Ethiopia, which found two different varieties of durum wheat which can grow vibrantly in very arid, dry conditions. The benefits of this biodiversity is not only linked to plants though, with new species of fish being found everyday and some, such as a Bangladeshi species, being very nutritious.
“Food biodiversity is full of superfoods but perhaps even more important is the fact these foods are also readily available and adapted to local farming conditions,” said Tutwiler.
The company behind the report, Biodiversity International, are now working with governments and major companies to increase the current level of investment in agrobiodiversity. One retailer involved is UK supermarket Sainsbury’s. Speaking of their involvement was the Head of Agriculture, Beth Hart.
“The world is changing – global warming, extreme weather and volatile prices are making it harder for farmers and growers to produce the foods our customers love. Which is why we are committed to working with our suppliers, farmers and growers around the world to optimise the health benefits, address the impact and biodiversity of these products and secure a sustainable supply.”, she said.
Japan, Korea and Italy make up the top three for the lowest world levels of obesity. This, they feel, is down to a tradition of healthy diets based on food biodiversity.
“The latest OECD report rates Italy third lowest in the world for levels of obesity after Japan and Korea. Is it a coincidence that all three countries have long traditions of healthy diets based on local food biodiversity, short food supply chains and celebration of local varieties and dishes?”, stated Pierfrancesco Sacco, Italy’s permanent representative to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.
He concluded by saying finding and cultivating a wider range of food is the key to securing the future of global food supplies.
“Unlike conserving pandas or rhinos, the more you use agrobiodiversity and the more you eat it, the better you conserve it.”, he concluded.