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Micro-organisms and invertebrates

Micro-organisms and invertebrates are the most numerous groups of species on Earth. Invertebrates are a highly diverse group, ranging from tiny insects to giant squids, and account for more than 95 percent of all animals Micro-organisms comprise the vast and diverse range of organisms that are too small to be seen by the human eye. Both groups are vital to food and agriculture.

Various kinds of micro-organisms establish mutually beneficial symbiosis with agricultural plants (e.g. colonizing roots and improving nutrient uptake) or animals (e.g. living the rumens of species such as cattle, sheep and goats and enabling them to digest fibrous foods). Micro-organisms also provide vital services in food processing, for example fermentation by yeasts and bacteria in the production of bread, yoghurt, etc. Many crops depend on invertebrate pollinators, most commonly bees.  Both micro-organisms and invertebrates play major roles as biological control agents, and are indispensable in nutrient cycling, in the decomposition and in the recycling of organic matter in soils.

Unfortunately, even as scientists are discovering the many roles and values of micro-organisms and invertebrates, this diversity is being eroded or lost. Changes in land use and resulting habitat loss, the use of pesticides and fertilizers, changes in climate and upsurges in invasive alien species have all upset ecosystem balances, and have interfered with the valuable ecosystem services provided by micro-organisms and invertebrates.

FAO has a long tradition of technical work on the roles of micro-organisms and invertebrates in food and agriculture, for example their use in integrated pest management. It also facilitates and coordinates two global initiatives of the Convention on Biological Diversity in this field: the International Initiative for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Pollinators and the International Initiative for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Soil Biodiversity. Many partner organizations collaborate with FAO on these important initiatives.

In 2019, at its Seventeenth Regular Session, the Commission adopted a Work Plan for the Sustainable Use and Conservation of Micro-organism and Invertebrate Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. It agreed to address functional groups of invertebrates and/or micro-organisms as follow:

  • CGRFA-18: (a) Pollinators, including honey bees, and (b) Biological control agents and biostimulants
  • CGRFA-19: (a) Soil micro-organisms and invertebrates, with emphasis on bioremediation and nutrient cycling organisms and (b) Micro-organisms of relevance to ruminant digestion
  • CGRFA-20: (a) Edible fungi and invertebrates used as dietary components of food/feed and (b) Micro-organisms used in food processing and agroindustrial processes