Feed the Future
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The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture

This post was adapted from the Executive Summary of The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture report released by FAO's Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

Biodiversity is the variety of life at genetic, species and ecosystem levels. Biodiversity for food and agriculture (BFA) is, in turn, the subset of biodiversity that contributes in one way or another to agriculture and food production. It includes the domesticated plants and animals raised in crop, livestock, forest and aquaculture systems; harvested forest and aquatic species; the wild relatives of domesticated species; and other wild species harvested for food.

The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture provides an assessment of biodiversity for food and agriculture (BFA) and its management worldwide.

Key findings are outlined below, and you can access the full report from the sidebar. 

  1. Biodiversity is essential to food and agriculture 

Biodiversity for food and agriculture is indispensable to food security, sustainable development and the supply of many vital ecosystem services. Biodiversity makes production systems and livelihoods more resilient to shocks and stresses, including to the effects of climate change. It is a key resource in efforts to increase food production while limiting negative impacts on the environment. It makes multiple contributions to the livelihoods of many people, often reducing the need for food and agricultural producers to rely on costly or environmentally harmful external inputs.

Many emphasize the role of diversification  using multiple species; integrating the use of crop, livestock, forest and aquatic resources; and conserving and managing habitat diversity at landscape or seascape scale  in promoting resilience, improving livelihoods and supporting food security and nutrition.

  1. Multiple interacting drivers of change are affecting biodiversity for food and agriculture

While a range of drivers of change are having major negative impacts on BFA and the ecosystem services it delivers, some provide opportunities to promote more sustainable management. Analysis of the country reports and the wider literature indicates that BFA is affected by a variety of drivers operating at a range of levels: major global trends such as changes in climate, international markets and demography give rise to more immediate drivers such as land-use change, pollution and overuse of external inputs, overharvesting and the proliferation of invasive species. Interactions between drivers often exacerbate their effects on BFA. Demographic changes, urbanization, markets, and trade and consumer preferences are reported to have a strong influence on food systems, frequently with negative consequences for BFA and the ecosystem services it provides.

  1. Biodiversity for food and agriculture is declining

Many key components of biodiversity for food and agriculture at genetic, species and ecosystem levels are in decline. Evidence suggests that the proportion of livestock breeds at risk of extinction is increasing, and that, for some crops and in some areas, plant diversity in farmers’ fields is decreasing while threats to diversity are increasing. Nearly a third of fish stocks are overfished and a third of freshwater fish species assessed are considered threatened. Countries report that many species that contribute to vital ecosystem services  including pollinators, natural enemies of pests, soil organisms and wild food species  are varieties and breeds that are not widely used commercially. Information on wild food species is also often limited.

  1. The use of many biodiversity-friendly practices is reported to be increasing

The sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity for food and agriculture call for approaches in which genetic resources, species and ecosystems are managed in an integrated way in the context of production systems and their surroundings. In particular, for many types of associated biodiversity and wild foods, sustainable use and conservation require in situ or on-farm management integrated into strategies at ecosystem or landscape levels.

  1. Enabling frameworks for the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity for food and agriculture remain insufficient

Enabling frameworks for the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity for food and agriculture urgently need to be established or strengthened. Most countries have put in place legal, policy and institutional frameworks targeting the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity as a whole. Policies addressing food and agriculture are reported to be increasingly based on ecosystem, landscape and seascape approaches. However, legal and policy measures explicitly targeting wild foods or components of associated biodiversity and their roles in supplying ecosystem services are not widespread.

What needs to be done?

Securing and enhancing the multiple roles of BFA will require sustainable use and conservation of the ecosystems, species and genetic diversity that compose it. For this to happen, knowledge of the roles of biodiversity in the ecological processes that underpin food and agricultural production needs to be strengthened and used to develop management strategies that protect, restore and enhance these processes across a range of scales.

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