Biodiversity for food and agriculture is among the earth’s most important resources. Crops, livestock, aquatic organisms, forest trees, micro-organisms and invertebrates – thousands of species and their genetic variability –make up the web of biodiversity upon which the world’s food production depends.
Biodiversity is indispensable: be it the insects that pollinate plants, the microscopic bacteria used for making cheese, the diverse livestock breeds used to make a living in harsh environments, or the thousands of varieties of crops that sustain food security worldwide. Biodiversity is essential for achieving nutritional diversity in diets – a diverse food basket – which is important for human health and development.
However, biodiversity, and in particular genetic diversity, is being lost at an alarming rate. The threats to genetic diversity include:
- a focus on the development and use of only a few commercial crop varieties and breeds of livestock, neglecting locally adapted varieties and breeds and their important characteristics;
- the effects of increasing population pressure;
- the loss of natural habitats and environmental degradation, including deforestation, desertification and river-basin modification; and
- climate change.
Genetic resources are the raw materials that local communities and researchers rely upon to improve the quality and output of food production. When these resources are eroded, humankind loses potential means of adapting agriculture to new socio-economic and environmental conditions. It is because of their genetic variability that plants, animals, micro-organisms and invertebrates are able to adapt and survive when their environments change. Maintaining and using a wide range of diversity – both diversity among species and genetic diversity within species – therefore means maintaining capacity to respond to future challenges. For example, plants and animals that are genetically tolerant of high temperatures or droughts, or resistant to pests and diseases, are of great importance in climate change adaptation.
Maintaining biodiversity for food and agriculture is a global responsibility. As countries seek to diversify and adapt their agricultural and food-production systems, the exchange of genetic resources and the interdependence of countries increases. With climate change, the conservation and sustainable use of genetic diversity has become more critical than ever. The challenge of conserving and sustainably using genetic resources extends across all continents and ecosystems and demands a broad-based response. The Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is the only international forum that specifically deals with all components of biodiversity for food and agriculture (i.e. plants, animals, aquatic resources, forests, micro-organisms and invertebrates). This unique international platform promotes a world without hunger by fostering the use and development of the whole portfolio of biodiversity important to food security and rural poverty alleviation.