Why Biodiversity Matters (from Slow Food, Italy 04 July 13)

biodiversityvideo

Close your eyes and picture a farm.

In your mind you may see alandscape with rows of different veggies, various fruit trees, and maybe a few cows or goats nibbling at the grass.

Wrong. The reality today is very different.

Over the past hundred years, the variety of seeds planted has dwindled from hundreds to just a handful. Animal diversity is suffering a similar fate. Large commercial farms that focus on specific animals or plants to maximize yields and profits have caused the variety in our food supply to plummet.

Today the human race relies on just three cereals – rice, wheat and corn – to provide for 60% of our caloric needs. In less than 100 years, we have lost three quarters of vegetable, fruit and legume varieties and a thousand breeds. Along with these plants and animals, we have lost hundreds of breads, cheeses, meats.

Why should we care? Well, we need biodiversity to grow food, or in other words, to survive.

If we only grew one type of corn, a plant disease could easily wipe it out. When there are many types of corn in a field, some may be resistant to the disease. Food security depends on resilient, diverse crops and animals being able to overcome diseases and the effects of climate change.

The diversity that keeps life going also applies to things like soil microbes that carry nutrients to a variety of insects and birds, who in turn pollinate valuable crops. These are adversely affected by the chemical pesticides and herbicides that often go along with industrial farming.

Meanwhile, it is small farmers, fisher folk and herders – among the poorest people in the world – who hold much of what’s left of the world’s biodiversity in their hands. Biodiversity offers more nutritional options, opportunities to raise incomes, a reservoir of plants to use for medicine, and most importantly a safeguard for our future food supply.

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