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Micro-organisms and invertebrates

Micro-organisms and invertebrates together are the most numerous group of species on Earth. Invertebrates are animals without a backbone. They account for more than 95 percent of all animals and comprise many subgroups of diverse species ranging from tiny insects to giant squid. Micro-organisms are too small to be seen by the human eye but though very small they are very important. Food and agriculture production depends on this “hidden” biodiversity.

Micro-organisms establish mutually beneficial symbiosis with the roots of agricultural plants and some fungi, or with ruminant livestock, such as cattle, sheep or goats, living in their guts. Also, micro-organisms provide beneficial services in food processing, for example fermentation by yeasts, bacteria or fungi. Invertebrates, such as bees, butterflies and other insects, are important to pollinate our fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, both micro-organisms and invertebrates play major roles as bio-control agents, and are indispensable in the degradation and recycling of organic matter in soils.

There is no question that micro-organisms and invertebrates are critical for agriculture and food production. Understanding and managing this segment of the world’s biodiversity, and recognizing its contributions, are crucial to overall sustainable agricultural development.

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 resulting upsurges in invasive alien species have all upset ecosystem balances, and have interfered with the many valuable ecosystem services provided by micro-organisms and invertebrates.

FAO has a long tradition of technical work that has demonstrated the importance of micro-organisms and invertebrates for food and agriculture, such as biological control through integrated pest management. FAO also facilitates and coordinates two global initiatives of the Convention on Biological Diversity that have been established in recognition of the essential services provided by micro-organisms and invertebrates across all production systems: 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.

Through the Commission, Members are given a platform to plan FAO’s future work on micro-organisms and invertebrates cross-sectorally, including the variety of functions and services they provide for sustainable agriculture and food production.

As part of the Commission’s Multi-Year Programme of Work, concerted efforts will focus first on pulling together a more comprehensive picture of the variety of functions and services micro-organisms and invertebrates provide to sustainable agriculture and quality food production. Not only will this information raise awareness of the values of this neglected segment of biodiversity for agriculture, it will also generate and strengthen partnerships and facilitate the use by countries of tools prepared by FAO and partners to improve development of national policies and plans for micro-organisms and invertebrates.