FAO Regional Office for Near East and North Africa

FAO calls for the adoption of “biodiversity-friendly” practices in agriculture

Changing how countries across the Near East and North Africa region produce food is fundamental

©FAO/Raphy Favre - A variety of dried maize cobs in Sudan.

3 November 2019, Cairo/Amman -- The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) warned today in a regional meeting that biodiversity in the Near East and North Africa is under serious danger, threatening the way food is being produced.

FAO in collaboration with Jordanian Ministry of Agriculture and Environment are convening a three days meeting (3-5 November), where a group of policymakers, experts, and private and civil society representatives are gathering to discuss the future of biodiversity in the region.

The official opening of the regional dialogue was attended by HRH Princess Basma Bint Ali, the founder and chairperson of the Royal Marine Conservation Society of Jordan (JREDS) and Chairwomen of the National Biodiversity Committee in Jordan and H.E Ibrahim Shahahdeh, Minister of Agriculture and Environment in Jordan.

FAO calls for transformative changes in food production, aimed at producing healthy and nutritious food while simultaneously safeguarding the region's biodiversity.

Rene Castro, FAO's Assistant Director-General for Climate, Biodiversity, Land and Water Department stressed that including biodiversity in farming, fishing and forestry policies and practices will be critical to feed a growing population and coping with the environmental challenges of the future.

"Of some 6 000 plant species cultivated for food, less than 200 contribute substantially to global food output, and just nine account for two-thirds of total crop production. Using such a small number of species increases the vulnerability of agriculture systems and puts food security and nutrition at risk," added the Assistant Director-General.

FAO estimates that around 82% of the calories in the human food supply comes from plants, 16% from animals, and 1% from aquatic animals and plants and around 40% of the world's economy comes from biological resources.

"Sustainable diets must champion diverse, traditional and local food, making use of nutritionally rich species, varieties of plants, breeds of animals and strains of fish, and move away from energy-dense foods high in fats, salts and sugars that have contributed to a costly global health crisis marked by 1 in 3 people malnourished and 1 in 8 adults obese," Castro said.

FAO calls for saving biodiversity as it conserves and manages the natural resources in a much more sustainable way. It helps protecting the ecosystem functions, such as water quality, nutrient cycling, or soil health.

Biodiversity and agriculture in the Near East and North Africa region

FAO reports that a number of countries in the Near East and North Africa region are suffering from many unsustainable agricultural practices, causing serious damage to the region's biodiversity.

"Diversifying food sources could play a critical role in improving nutrition in the region; such as genetically diverse plants that are more tolerant to hotter and drier conditions," Jean-Marc Faurès, FAO's Regional Programme Leader for the Near East and North Africa said. Faurès also highlighted that a wide variety of animal breeds means a better capacity for farmers and pastoralists to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

"This is especially important nowadays in the face of emerging challenges in the region such as the impacts of climate change, scarce natural resources, rapid urbanization and also a growing population with changing diets," he added.

Biodiversity-friendly practices

Many countries in the region have implemented biodiversity-friendly practices such as Oman, which has started using breeding programmes to improve local wheat and barley landraces, as these have shorter growing seasons and can be managed more flexibly, especially during years with prolonged periods of extreme heat.

Also in Jordan there are good practices promoting the use of biodiversity for food and agriculture that can adapt and mitigate climate change. The use of local wheat and barley varieties in breeding has encouraged farmers in Jordan to select, use and conserve varieties that are better adapted to climate change.

In Algeria, citizens are using a 'ghout' system, which is a traditional and complex hydro-agricultural system for food production in dry areas, where water is limited. It depends on cultivating lowlands in wades.

Egypt launched a National Gene Bank to help in achieving food security by maintaining biodiversity and providing the agricultural system with outstanding genetic resources that tolerate environmental stresses.