FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

The State of the World’s

Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture

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Based on information provided by 91 countries and 27 international organizations, analysis of global literature and datasets, and contributions from over 175 authors and reviewers, The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture assesses biodiversity for food and agriculture and its management worldwide.

What is biodiversity for food and agriculture (BFA)?

Biodiversity is the variety of life at genetic, species and ecosystem levels. Biodiversity for food and agriculture (BFA) is, in turn, the subset of biodiversity that contributes in one way or another to agriculture and food production. It includes the domesticated plants and animals that are part of crop, livestock, forest or aquaculture systems, harvested forest and aquatic species, the wild relatives of domesticated species, and other wild species harvested for food and other products. It also encompasses what is known as “associated biodiversity”, the vast range of organisms that live in and around food and agricultural production systems1, sustaining them and contributing to their output.

1 Agriculture is taken to include crop and livestock production, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture.

Biodiversity is essential to food and agriculture

Biodiversity for food and agriculture is indispensable to food security and sustainable development. It supplies many vital ecosystem services, such as creating and maintaining healthy soils, pollinating plants, controlling pests and providing habitat for wildlife, including for fish and other species that are vital to food production and agricultural livelihoods.

Biodiversity makes production systems and livelihoods more resilient to shocks and stresses, including those caused by climate change. It is a key resource in efforts to increase food production while limiting negative impacts on the environment. It makes a variety of contributions to the livelihoods of many people, often reducing the need for food and agricultural producers to rely on costly or environmentally harmful external inputs.

Biodiversity at genetic, species and ecosystem levels helps address the challenges posed by diverse and changing environmental conditions and socio-economic circumstances. Diversifying production systems, for example by using multiple species, breeds or varieties, integrating the use of crop, livestock, forest and aquatic biodiversity, or promoting habitat diversity in the local landscape or seascape, helps to promote resilience, improve livelihoods and support food security and nutrition.

Biodiversity for food and agriculture is declining

Many key components of biodiversity for food and agriculture at genetic, species and ecosystem levels are in decline. The proportion of livestock breeds at risk of extinction is increasing. Overall, the diversity of crops present in farmers’ fields has declined and threats to crop diversity are increasing.


More than 6000 plant species have been cultivated for food.


Fewer than 200 make major contributions to food production globally, regionally or nationally.


Only 9 account for 66% of total crop production.

Nearly a third of fish stocks are overfished and a third of freshwater fish species assessed are considered threatened.


Of fish stocks are overfished


Are maximally sustainably fished


Are underfished

Many species, including pollinators, soil organisms and the natural enemies of pests, that contribute to vital ecosystem services are in decline as a consequence of the destruction and degradation of habitats, overexploitation, pollution and other threats. There is also a rapid decline in key ecosystems that deliver numerous services essential to food and agriculture, including supply of freshwater, protection against storms, floods and other hazards, and habitats for species such as fish and pollinators.


7 745 local breeds of livestock are still in existence.


26% of these are at risk of extinction.


The risk status of 67% is unknown.


Only 7% are not at risk.

Wild Foods

Wild foods contribute to food security both via direct consumption (on a regular basis or as an emergency measure in times of scarcity) and by being sold to buy other food. Many wild foods are rich in micronutrients, some containing more than their cultivated counterparts. Eating them can alleviate micronutrient and/or protein deficiencies and thus make diets more nutritious and balanced. However, there are many concerns about the unsustainable use of wild foods.

Contributing countries reported 3 980 wild food species (2 822 distinct species, as several are reported by more than one country), of which the vast majority are plants, followed by fish and mammals.

link FIGURE 4.9

Number of wild food species reported, by type and region

Number of responses

  • Reptiles and amphibians
  • Plants
  • Other
  • Molluscs
  • Mammals
  • Insects
  • Fungi
  • Fish
  • Crustaceans
  • Birds

Notes: A “response” is the report of a given wild food species by a given country. Analysis based on 91 country reports.
Source: Country reports prepared for The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture.

Twenty-four percent of these wild food species are reported to be decreasing in abundance, while for another 61 percent of these, trends are either not reported or not known.

link FIGURE 4.12

Reported trends in the status of wild food species, by region

Many factors are negatively affecting BFA, but some are creating opportunities

BFA is being affected by major global trends such as changes in climate, international markets and demography. These are giving rise to other challenges such as land-use change, pollution, overuse, overharvesting and the proliferation of invasive species. Interactions between these trends can often exacerbate their effects on BFA. Demographic changes, urbanization, markets, trade and consumer preferences strongly influence food systems, frequently with negative consequences for BFA and the ecosystem services it provides. However, such drivers also open opportunities to make food systems more sustainable, for example through the development of markets for biodiversity-friendly products.

Many of the drivers that have negative impacts on BFA, including overexploitation, overharvesting, pollution, overuse of external inputs and changes in land and water management, are at least partially, caused by inappropriate agricultural practices.

According to the countries that contributed to the report, changes in land and water use and management is the driver that most negatively affects the regulatory and supporting functions of ecosystems. For example, ecosystems help to regulate climate, filter air and water and safeguard soil fertility. They also support plants and animals by providing diverse habitats. These functions are all severely threatened by irresponsible changes in land and water management.

The loss of traditional lifestyles as a result of population growth, urbanization, the industrialization of agriculture and food processing is also negatively affecting BFA and the maintenance of traditional knowledge related to it.

Where associated biodiversity, i.e. the vast range of organisms that live in and around food and agricultural production systems, is concerned, different regions report very different threat patterns. While all regions report the alteration or loss of habitats as major threats, other major threats identified are: overexploitation, hunting and poaching in Africa; deforestation in Asia; deforestation, changes in land use and agricultural intensification and expansion in Europe and Central Asia; overexploitation, pests, diseases and invasive species in Latin America and the Caribbean; and overexploitation in the Near East and North Africa.

link FIGURE 4.2

Reported threats to associated biodiversity, by region

Number of responses

  • Agricultural intensification and expansion
  • Changes in land use
  • Climate change
  • Deforestation
  • Habitat alteration and loss
  • Hunting and poaching
  • Overexploitation
  • Pests, diseases and invasive species
  • Pollution
  • Water-cycle alteration
  • Other
  • Not reported

Notes: A “response” is a mention by a specific country of a specific component of biodiversity (species or higher taxonomic group). No data are available for North America or the Pacific. Analysis based on 91 country reports.
Source: Country reports prepared for The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture.

Policy measures and advances in science and technology may mitigate the negative effects of other drivers on BFA. They provide critical entry points for interventions supporting sustainable use and conservation. However, policies intended to promote the sustainable management of BFA are often weakly implemented.

More knowledge needed on associated biodiversity

More knowledge is needed on associated biodiversity and on its role in supplying ecosystem services. In particular, more information is need about micro-organisms and invertebrates. Many associated biodiversity species have never been identified and described, particularly in the case of invertebrates and micro-organisms. Even when they have, their functions within the ecosystem often remain poorly understood. Over 99 percent of bacteria and protist species remain unknown. For several types of associated biodiversity, including soil micro-organisms and those used for food processing, advances in molecular techniques and sequencing technologies are facilitating characterization. Several countries have active programmes for characterizing soil micro-organisms using molecular methods. In many countries, however, gaps in terms of skills, facilities and equipment constrain opportunities to benefit from these developments.

Monitoring programmes for BFA remain limited

Assessment and monitoring of the status and trends of BFA at national, regional and global levels are uneven and often limited. Even in developed regions, where the population trends of many species are well monitored and there are numerous ongoing research projects on the links between biodiversity and food and agriculture, available data often provide only a snapshot of the status of individual species (or groups of species) in particular production systems, habitats or geographical areas. While it is clear that many components of BFA are declining, lack of data often constrains the planning and prioritization of effective remedial measures.

in focus


The Domestic Animal Diversity Information System (DAD-IS), maintained and developed by FAO, contains data from 182 countries on more than 8 000 livestock breeds belonging to 38 species.

The World Information and Early Warning System on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (WIEWS) contains information on more than 4.9 million plant accessions from over 6 900 genera conserved under medium- or long-term conditions in over 575 genebanks in 90 countries and 16 international/regional centres.

Data from WIEWS and DAD-IS are used to monitor indicators 2.5.1 (Number of plant and animal genetic resources for food and agriculture secured in medium- or long-term conservation facilities) and 2.5.2 (Proportion of local breeds, classified as being at risk, not-at-risk or at unknown level of risk of extinction) of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The use of many biodiversity-friendly practices is increasing

The use of a wide range of management practices and approaches that are favourable to the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity for food and agriculture is increasing. Eighty percent of reporting countries indicate that one or more of the biodiversity-focused practices on which they were invited to report are being used in one or more types of production system. A much higher proportion of OECD countries than non-OECD countries report the use of these practices.

However, it is difficult to fully evaluate the extent to which these approaches are being implemented because of the variety of scales and contexts involved and the absence of data and appropriate assessment methods. Although countries generally indicate that the impacts of the biodiversity-focused practices on diversity are positive, they emphasize the need for more research in this regard, even for practices where research on production issues is well established.

Many biodiversity-focused practices are relatively complex and require good understanding of the local ecosystem. They can be knowledge-intensive, context-specific and provide benefits only in the relative long term. Many countries note major challenges in scaling up such practices and promoting them through capacity development and strengthened policy frameworks.

Enabling frameworks for the sustainable use and conservation of BFA remain insufficient

Enabling frameworks for the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity for food and agriculture urgently need to be established or strengthened. Most countries have put in place legal, policy and institutional frameworks for the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity as a whole. Policies addressing food and agriculture are reported to be increasingly based on ecosystem, landscape and seascape approaches. However, legal and policy measures explicitly targeting wild foods or components of associated biodiversity and their roles in supplying ecosystem services are not widespread.

Constraints to the development and implementation of effective policy tools include a lack of awareness among policy-makers and other stakeholders of the importance of BFA, in particular wild foods and associated biodiversity, to livelihoods and food security. There is a large knowledge gap in terms of how existing policies are affecting these components of biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide. Diverging interests among stakeholders hamper the development and implementation of laws, policies and regulations, as do shortages of human and financial resources.