FAO :: Newsroom :: Focus on the issues :: 2004 :: The future of agric… :: Erosion of plant ge…
Erosion of plant genetic diversity
Some 10 000 different plant species have been used by humans for food and fodder production since the dawn of agriculture 10 000 years ago.

Yet today just 150 crops feed most human beings on the plant, and just 12 crops provide 80% of food energy -- wheat, rice, maize and potato alone provide 60%.

FAO's report State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources lists countries where most of a crop's varietal diversity has been lost through genetic erosion.

Along with soil and water, these plant genetic resources constitute the foundation upon which agriculture and world food security are based. Plant genetic resources are used by farmers and scientists as the raw material for breeding new plant varieties and in biotechnology and are a reservoir of genetic diversity which acts as a buffer against environmental and economic change.

Reduction of agricultural biodiversity means fewer options for ensuring more diverse nutrition, enhancing food production, raising incomes, coping with environmental constraints and sustainably managing ecosystems.

Recognizing, safeguarding and using the potential and diversity of nature is critical for food security and sustainable agriculture.

A tangled web of interdependence

The loss of agricultural biodiversity has meant that agriculture in virtually all countries has become heavily dependent on genetic resources from other parts of the world.

For instance, according to one study, North America is completely dependent upon species originating in other regions of the world for its major food and industrial crops, while sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to be 87% dependent on other parts of the world for the plant genetic resources it needs. Over two thirds of developing countries acquire more than half of their crop production from crops domesticated in other regions.

According to FAO, even though many countries hold a significant amount of plant genetic diversity for food and agriculture in their own gene banks and farmers' fields, they are likely to require access to additional diversity from overseas and so this need for exchange of plant genetic resources is not likely to subside.

Given the importance of a relatively small number of crops for global food security, says FAO, it is important that the diversity within major crops is conserved effectively and managed wisely.
FAO/Focus on biodiversity

Read more…

The future of agriculture depends on biodiversity

Erosion of plant genetic diversity

Building an international system to safeguard agricultural biodiversity

Loss of domestic animal breeds alarming

Traditional knowledge, often the key to unlocking benefits of biodiversity, under threat

Working to protect biological diversity

Further reading

FAO/18818/I. Balderi

Plant genetic resources provide raw material for breeding new varieties and are a reservoir of genetic diversity which acts as a buffer against environmental and economic change.

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