Global food security at risk as crop biodiversity is lost

Saturday, January 29, 2011 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: food security, biodiversity, health news

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(NaturalNews) Global food security may be in peril unless immediate measures are taken to stem the dramatic loss of genetic diversity among food crops and their wild relatives, according to a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

It is largely the genetic diversity found in both cultivated and wild varieties of food crops that allows farmers and scientists to create new strains. In the face of a changing climate, the ability to develop crops that can resist drought, heat, salinity, disease and pests will only become more important. Yet according to the report, 75 percent of crop diversity has already been lost since 1900, as agribusiness focused on increasing the output of a few big cash crops and rare local varieties disappeared. Habitat destruction has wiped out wild relatives of food crops, and global warming is exacerbating those effects. By 2050, the report predicts, 22 percent of wild bean, peanut and potato relatives will be lost to climate change.

Brian O'Leary describes the situation in his book Reinheriting the Earth: "It is as if humankind is painting a picture of the next millennium with a shrinking palette -- the world will still be colored green, but in increasingly uniform and monocultured tones. One in eight species are immediately threatened. To make matters more challenging, the genetic diversity of food supply keeps decreasing. For the sake of improving agricultural efficiency, large centralized seed providers narrow the choices for farmers and raise the risk of major crops being wiped out by blights or bad weather."

The FAO report calls for an immediate effort to collect and study the remaining wild crop relatives and rare cultivars.

"The loss of biodiversity will have a major impact on the ability of humankind to feed itself in the future; all nine billion of us by 2050, with the poorest in the world most affected," the report warns.

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