Global Food Supplies

If we think about the different aspects of sustainability – heating, cooling, air quality, electrical power, waste management, etc. – the most critical one has to be food. In the history of civilizations on our planet, loss of food resources was key to the extinction of those civilizations.  We now have a global civilization, and an increasing amount of starvation and malnutrition is already happening

Those of us in countries that have an ample food supply can’t even imagine walking into a supermarket and seeing empty shelves. And that leaves us vulnerable, as we generally don’t address problems until we feel them.  Here’s an article based on a new research report that has a lot of focus on the quality of the food we eat and the health we derive.

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Sixth mass extinction of wildlife also threatens global food supplies

 

Plant and animal species that are the foundation

of our food supplies are as endangered as wildlife

but get almost no attention, a new report reveals

 

Damian Carrington, Environment editor

@dpcarrington

Tuesday 26 September 2017

The Guardian

 

The sixth mass extinction of global wildlife already under way is seriously threatening the world’s food supplies, according to experts.

 

“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,”

 

… said Ann Tutwiler, director general of Bioversity International, a research group that published a new report on Tuesday.  In an article for the Guardian, she said:

 

“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.

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 over-

looked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce

our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change.”

 

It’s not just animals. Many seed crops are also endangered. So why is agrobiodiversity so overlooked? This valuable source of affordable, nutritious food could disappear if we don’t act.

Three-quarters of the world’s food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species and this leaves supplies very vulnerable to disease and pests that can sweep through large areas of monocultures, as happened in the Irish potato famine when a million people starved to death. Reliance on only a few strains also means the world’s fast changing climate will cut yields just as the demand from a growing global population is rising.

There are tens of thousands of wild or rarely cultivated species that could provide a richly varied range of nutritious foods, resistant to disease and tolerant of the changing environment. But the destruction of wild areas, pollution and overhunting has started a mass extinction of species on Earth.

The focus to date has been on wild animals – half of which have been lost in the last 40 years – but the new report reveals that the same pressures are endangering humanity’s food supply, with at least 1,000 cultivated species already endangered.

Tutwiler said saving the world’s agrobiodiversity is also vital in tackling the number one cause of human death and disability in the world – poor diet, which includes both too much and too little food. She said:

 

“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.”

 

The new report sets out how both governments and companies can protect, enhance and use the huge variety of little-known food crops. It highlights examples including the gac, a fiery red fruit from Vietnam, and the orange-fleshed Asupina banana. Both have extremely high levels of beta-carotene that the body converts to vitamin A and could help the many millions of people suffering deficiency of that vitamin.

Quinoa has become popular in some rich nations but only a few of the thousands of varieties native to South America are cultivated. The report shows how support has enabled farmers in Peru to grow a tough, nutritious variety that will protect them from future diseases or extreme weather.

Mainstream crops can also benefit from diversity and earlier in 2017 in Ethiopia researchers found two varieties of durum wheat that produce excellent yields even in dry areas. Fish diversity is also very valuable, with a local Bangladeshi species now shown to be extremely nutritious. Tutwiler said:

 

 

“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.”

 

Biodiversity International is working with both companies and governments to ramp up investment in agrobiodiversity. The supermarket Sainsbury’s is one, and its head of agriculture, Beth Hart, said:

 

“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 optimize the health benefits,

address the impact and biodiversity of these

products and secure a sustainable supply.”

 

Pierfrancesco Sacco, Italy’s permanent representative to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, said:

 

“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?”

 

He said finding and cultivating a wider range of food is the key:

 

“Unlike conserving pandas or rhinos, the more

you use agrobiodiversity and the more you

eat it, the better you conserve it.”

 

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What I like most about this report is its examination of health, and not just shortages.  If a shortage never happens – which I hope is the case – we’d still be better off following the recommended guidelines and achieving greater nutritional benefits using the more diverse range of foods discussed in the report.

 

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