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The Borlaug Blog

The Importance of Biodiversity to Food and Agricultural Systems across the Globe

 
By Gurdev S. Khush
1996 World Food Prize Laureate

 “Access to food is the birth right of every individual on this planet.”

Norman Borlaug

Dr. Gurdev S. Khush

The food we humans eat every day throughout our lives comes from agricultural biodiversity.  Biodiversity is the basis of agriculture and our food systems. It has enabled farming systems to evolve since the origin of agriculture about 10,000 years ago.  Our civilization evolved when human beings started domesticating plants and animals.

Agricultural biodiversity includes all components of biological diversity of relevance to food and agriculture. It includes plants’ genetic resources: crops, wild plants harvested and managed for food, trees on farms, pastures and rangeland species, medicinal plants and ornamental plants of aesthetic value.  Animal genetic resources include domesticated animals, wild animals hunted for food, wild and farmed fish and other aquatic organisms, insect pollinators and microbial and fungal genetic resources.

Agricultural biodiversity provides humans with food, raw materials for goods such as: cotton and wool for clothing; wood for shelter and fuel; plants and roots for medicines; and materials for biofuels. Agricultural biodiversity also performs ecosystem services such as soil and water conservation, maintenance of soil fertility, conservation of biota and pollination of plants, all of which are essential for food production and for human survival.  In addition, genetic diversity of agricultural biodiversity provides species with the ability to adapt to changing environments and to evolve by increasing their adaptation to frost, high temperature, drought and waterlogging as well as their resistances to diseases, insects and parasites.

The importance of agricultural biodiversity encompasses socio-cultural, economic and environmental elements.  All domesticated crops and animals result from management of biodiversity, which is constantly responding to new challenges to maintain and increase productivity under constantly varying conditions and population pressures. Agricultural biodiversity is essential to satisfy basic human needs for food and livelihood security.

Biodiversity, food and nutrition interact on a number of key issues.  It contributes directly to food security, nutrition and well-being by providing a variety of plant and animals from domesticated and wild sources.  Biodiversity can also serve as a safety-net to vulnerable households during times of crisis, provide income opportunity to the rural poor and sustain productive agricultural ecosystems.  Coping mechanisms based on indigenous plants are particularly important for the most vulnerable people who have little access to formal employment, land or market opportunities.  Wild indigenous plants provide alternate sources of food when harvests fail.

Finally, genetic diversity of plant’s genetic sources is the basis of crop improvement.  Generations of farmers and plant breeders have converted wild ancestors of our food plants into productive varieties, which feed the world today.  Whereas wild wheat and rice may produce a few hundred kilograms of grain per hectare, modern green revolution varieties produce 6-8 tons.

10/16/2017 3:11 PM |Add a comment |Comments (1)
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This is a noble peace of work. Please share with me

Pius Mbuya Nina | piusm.nina@gmail.com | 10/19/2019 7:16 AM
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