A first report of its kind presents mounting evidence that the biodiversity underpinning the world’s food systems is disappearing – threatening the future of food, livelihoods, and health and environment.

The “State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture” report, recently published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, states that once lost, species that support global food systems can’t be recovered. Prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization with the guidance of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, the report is based on information provided by 91 countries, and analysis of the most recent global data.

“Less biodiversity means plants and animals are more vulnerable to pests and diseases,” said José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization. “Compounded by our reliance on fewer species to feed ourselves, the increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk.”

The report highlights decreasing plant diversity in farm fields, increasing numbers of livestock breeds at risk of extinction, and increases in the proportion of over-fishing. Of about 6,000 plant species cultivated for food, fewer than 200 contribute substantially to global food output. Only nine account for 66 percent of total crop production, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.

The world’s livestock production is based on about 40 animal species, with just a few providing the majority of meat, milk and eggs. Of the 7,745 local – occurring in one country – breeds of livestock reported globally, 26 percent are at risk of extinction, according to the report.

Data from the reporting countries indicate that wild-food species and many species that contribute to ecosystem services vital to food and agriculture – such as pollinators, soil organisms and natural enemies of pests – are rapidly disappearing.

Causes of biodiversity loss varied

The driver of biodiversity loss is attributed to changes in numerous areas.

  • land use and management
  • water use and management
  • pollution
  • overexploitation
  • overharvesting
  • climate change
  • population growth
  • urbanization

Biodiversity-friendly practices increase

The report highlights increased interest in biodiversity-friendly practices. Of the 91 countries, 80 percent indicate using one or more biodiversity-friendly approaches.

  • organic agriculture
  • integrated-pest management
  • conservation agriculture
  • sustainable soil management
  • agroecology
  • sustainable forest management
  • agroforestry
  • diversification practices in aquaculture
  • ecosystem approaches to fisheries
  • ecosystem restoration

Conservation efforts are increasing globally.

  • on-site – such as protected areas and on-farm management
  • off-site – such as gene banks and culture collections

But levels of coverage and protection often are inadequate. More must be done to stop the loss of biodiversity, according to the report.

The Food and Agriculture Organization calls on governments and the international community to do more.

  • Strengthen enabling frameworks.
  • Create incentives and benefit-sharing measures.
  • Promote pro-biodiversity initiatives.
  • Address core drivers of biodiversity loss.

Greater efforts also must be made to improve the knowledge of biodiversity for food and agriculture. Many information gaps remain, particularly for associated biodiversity species. Many such species have never been identified and described — particularly invertebrates and microorganisms. More than 99 percent of bacteria and protist species – and their impact on food and agriculture – remain unknown, according to the report. Visit www.fao.org/biodiversity for more information.