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The state in the world of the biodiversity for food and agriculture

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Context - Many species that are essential for biodiversity and for agricultural production, such as bees, are currently threatened.

Since biodiversity underlies the food system, it is a critical issue for food security and for sustainable development.

This is a faithful summary of the leading report produced in 2019 by the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO): " The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture" 

  • Source document:FAO (2019)
  • Summary & Details: GreenFacts
Latest update: 25 April 2019

1. What makes biodiversity important for food and agriculture?

Biodiversity is the variety of life at genetic, species and ecosystem levels; it is essential to the mutual interactions between the species that underlie the biology of food production. In the context of food and agriculture, the part of biodiversity that contributes in one way or another to agriculture and food production is considered, including the species that are used directly in food production and the vast range of associated organisms that live in and around food and agricultural production systems, sustaining them and contributing to their output.

Supplying enough safe and nutritious food for a growing world population poses many challenges. Among the most serious is the need to increase food production globally without undermining the capacity of the world’s lands and seas to meet the food needs of future generations and to deliver other essential ecosystem services.

In some key areas, efforts towards a conservation of biodiversity are vital also to meet the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations 20301 Agenda, including:

  • Pollination. An estimated 87 % of all flowering plant species are pollinated by animals;  
  • Protection from predator species. Many different components of biodiversity found in and around production systems help to control species that may attack crops, livestock, trees or aquatic species, cause or spread diseases or otherwise disrupt human activities or the supply of ecosystem services;  
  • Climate. Forests, grasslands, and freshwater, marine and coastal ecosystems play key roles in the Earth’s carbon cycle and hence in regulating greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere. In all cases, the uptake and release of carbon depend on complex processes involving an enormous range of interacting species; 
  • Water. Many different organisms contribute to the process of filtering pollutants before they can enter water bodies, transferring them out of the water (e.g. into bottom sediments or the atmosphere) or degrading them into benign or less-harmful components; 
  • Cultural services. Biodiversity has a major influence on the aesthetic appearance of many ecosystems, their capacity to inspire, their suitability for various recreational activities and their educational significance. 


2. What are the main drivers that are affecting biodiversity?

There are many factors that have major negative impacts on biodiversity and on the resilience of the ecosystem services that it provides, however, some have also a positive impact and can help promote more sustainable management. Changes in land and water use and management leading to loss and degradation of forest and aquatic ecosystems is the main driver mentioned by the highest number of countries as having negative effects on regulating and supporting ecosystem services.

Some of the factors that drive changes in biodiversity operate at a global level, like changes in climate or moves on the international markets, while some others, such as changes in land use or the proliferation of invasive species, operate at a more local level. Interactions between these drivers of change can exacerbate their effects on biodiversity for food and agriculture, effects partially caused by inappropriate agricultural practices: overexploitation, overharvesting, pollution, overuse of external inputs, and changes in land and water management. It is interesting to note that global forest area continues to decline, although the rate of loss decreased by 50 % between the periods 1990–2000 and 2010–2015.

Policy measures and advances in science and technology are largely seen by countries as positive drivers that offer ways of reducing the negative effects of other drivers on biodiversity. They provide critical entry points for interventions supporting sustainable use and conservation. However, policies intended to promote the sustainable management of biodiversity for food and agriculture are still often weakly implemented.

3. What are the trends in biodiversity decline?

Many key components of biodiversity for food and agriculture (BFA) at genetic, species and ecosystem levels are in decline. Evidence suggests that the proportion of livestock breeds at risk of extinction is increasing, nearly a third of fish stocks are overfished and a third of freshwater fish species assessed are considered threatened.

In many parts of the world, biodiverse agricultural landscapes in which cultivated land is interspersed with uncultivated areas, such as woodlands, pastures and wetlands, have been or are being replaced by large areas of monoculture farmed using large quantities of external inputs such as pesticides, mineral fertilizers and fossil fuels. By consequence, for some crop plants, diversity in farmers’ fields is decreasing and threats to diversity are increasing.

As a result of the destruction and degradation of habitats, overexploitation, pollution and other threats, countries report that in key ecosystems that deliver numerous services essential to food and agriculture, many species that contribute to vital ecosystem services, including pollinators, natural enemies of pests, soil organisms and wild food species, are in decline.

4. How far are applied the practices needed for protecting biodiversity and set up sustainable practices in food and agricultural practices?

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 (in situ)2 and of their surroundings (ex situ). Key tasks include addressing the drivers of biodiversity loss within the food and agriculture sector and beyond, strengthening in situ and ex situ conservation measures, and increasing the uptake of management practices that promote the contributions of biodiversity to sustainable production. 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. ex situ conservation should serve as a complementary strategy.

Crop, livestock, forest and aquatic genetic resources are conserved in situ through a variety of approaches, including promotion of their sustainable use in production systems and the establishment of protected and other designated areas. However, many species and populations remain inadequately protected.

It is difficult to fully evaluate the extent to which approaches that promote sustainability and biodiversity are being implemented, because of the variety of scales and contexts involved, and the absence of data and appropriate assessment methods.

Improvements to the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity are often constrained by a lack of systemic understanding of the interactions between sectors (crop and livestock production, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture), between wild and domesticated biodiversity, and between the ecological and socio-economic components of production systems. Cooperation across disciplines, and greater involvement of producers and other stakeholders in research projects, would help to overcome these knowledge gaps.

2 In situ conservation comprises measures that promote the maintenance of biodiversity (including domesticated biodiversity) in and around crop, livestock, forest, aquatic and mixed production systems (or in the case of wild foods and wild relatives of domesticated species also in other habitats).
Ex situ conservation is defined as “the conservation of components of biological diversity outside their natural habitats”.

5. What is needed to set up sustainable practice regarding biodiversity in food and agricultural practices?

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.

 The ten elements of agroecology
The ten elements of agroecology
The state of the world’s biodiversity for food and agriculture”, FAO. 2019

Research on food and agricultural systems needs to become more multidisciplinary, participatory and focused on interactions between different components of biodiversity for food and agriculture. Cross-sectoral cooperation and multi-stakeholder collaborative activities specifically targeting associated biodiversity and wild foods are less widespread and need to be expanded and strengthened.

6. What are the main conclusions of the FAO report on the biodiversity of food and agricultural (BFA) practices?

The main conclusions of the report are that, at minimum, there is a need to:

  1. Better understand the effects of drivers of change on BFA and take urgent action to address those that are undermining the sustainability of food and agricultural production;  
  2. Improve the monitoring of recognized threats to BFA, such as habitat destruction, pollution, inappropriate use of agricultural inputs, overharvesting, pests, diseases and invasive alien species, and strengthen efforts to reduce them or mitigate their effects;  
  3. Promote the use of technologies and management practices that have positive effects on BFA and the supply of ecosystem services;  
  4. Implement policies that help to protect biodiversity from the effects of negative drivers, and support its sustainable use
  5. Remove or revise policies that have harmful effects; and  
  6. Promote the use of BFA in climate change adaptation and mitigation, in disaster-risk reduction and in addressing other drivers that negatively affect production systems and the supply of ecosystem services. 

Themes covered
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