FAO in North America

The Declining Ecosystem and its Impact on Global Food Systems


25 June 2019, Washington, DC - The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat all rely on biodiversity – but the demands of a growing population and the practices of unsustainable agriculture are compromising access to humanity’s most basic needs. This was the key message from a recent report launched by FAO, entitled The State of the World's Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture. To discuss this timely topic, FAO and CSIS convened a high-level panel on the impacts of biodiversity loss on our food system, moderated by Kimberly Flowers, Director of CSIS Humanitarian Agenda and Global Food Security Project.

“One of the consequences of the Green Revolution was a real loss in the agriculture biodiversity in our food systems, where we are now relying on only three crops for over half of our food calories, but we have 5,538 crops that we could be using,” said Ann Tutwiler, Chair of Bioversity International and the keynote speaker. She noted that areas with greater crop diversity suffered less from crop failures. The Agrobiodiveristy Index is a useful toolkit to measure how countries are performing on agrobiodiversity in their food production systems. 

Citing findings of the first-event comprehensive intergovernmental report on biodiversity, Sir Robert Watson, chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) said, “One million species are at the threat for extinction - 500,000 plants and animals, and 500,000 insects. But they are not inevitable, if we start to manage our systems better most of those species will not go extinct.” Increased wealth, population, and per capita consumption will further push biodiversity loss through land and sea-use change, exploitation, and pollution. He stressed that “Climate change, land degradation and loss of biodiversity will undermine the achievement of most if not all of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

“Agriculture is by far the biggest contributor to habitat loss globally, up to 70% of biodiversity loss is attributed to agriculture,” added Nik Sekhran, Chief Conservation Officer at World Wildlife Fund (WWF). WWF is working with big private sector companies to reduce food waste, and make their supply chains more sustainable. He noted the importance of addressing policy weaknesses on providing incentives to restore degraded land for production.

“The food system is broken,” said Naoko Ishi, CEO and Chair of the Global Environment Facility (GEF). “We have 2.1 billion overweight people and over 800 million suffering from hunger. We need to make the global food system more sustainable.” The GEF board recently approved a USD 230 million funding for food, land use, and restoration programs. The initiative aims to conduct a comprehensive assessment of land-use planning, value chain approaches to globally traded commodities, and the landscape/ jurisdictional approaches. She noted the importance of overcoming manmade silos between ministries and different sectors, and seizing the political momentum ahead of the Convection on Biological Diversity Conference of Parties in Beijing in 2020.  

“Biodiversity for food and agriculture is declining at a staggering, dramatic level. Once extinct, species cannot be brought back; this is final,” said Thomas Pesek, Senior Liaison Officer of FAO, sharing findings from the State of the World's Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture report. The first-of-its-kind report provides us with a baseline to track and measure our progress. Climate smart agriculture, agroforestry, agroecology, sustainable land, water, and forestry management all provide opportunities to protect biodiversity.  

The high-level panel discussion conveyed the urgency to address biodiversity loss in plant, food crop, animal, and insect species. A business-as-usual path will only further deteriorate our planet. It is crucial that governments and other actors, including the private sector, work together to help the transition towards creating a more sustainable food system that can feed a growing population without compromising the environment. As stated by Sir Robert Watson, and reiterated by Naoko Ishi, biodiversity loss is not only an environmental issue, but it is also an economic, social, and security issue.

Watch the full session

Read the State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture 

FAO’s work on biodiversity