Let’s mix Biodiversity
Biological diversity (or biodiversity) is fundamental for life on the planet but also for agriculture and food production.
We have an increasingly clear understanding of how biodiversity contributes decisively to the life of the planet, through the millions of genes that serve to compose the living structure, thousands of plants and animals that populate the Earth and countless organisms that make up natural ecosystems.
In this sense, living matter represents a complex interdependent intertwining of births, deaths and renewal. Humans are only a small part of this vibrant mosaic, but they have a major impact on species and the environment. A large number of plants and animals are therefore at risk, along with fundamental natural processes such as insect pollination and soil regeneration through microorganisms.
Furthermore, to feed a growing population, agriculture must be given a boost to increase food production. More flexible agriculture will also be essential, conserving a wide variety of life forms with particular characteristics, such as trees that survive droughts or livestock that reproduce in critical situations. Sustainable agricultural techniques can feed the population and simultaneously protect oceans, forests, grasslands and other ecosystems that are home to biological diversity.
We also consider that the primary productivity of an ecosystem (whether natural or agricultural) is a direct function of the biodiversity index of an ecosystem, whether artificial (agrarian) or natural.
More biodiverse systems have higher productivity, which is equivalent to saying: better overall photosynthetic efficiency and, therefore, greater biomass production.
Obviously in agricultural systems this biomass production must be aimed at the production of food, fuel, fiber and medicines as well as the management of agrosystems.
In this regard, there are many studies that are evaluating this factor.
Among these, a research entitled “Agricultural diversification promotes multiple ecosystem services without compromising yield”, was published in the Journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
This is a remarkable study that analyzed the results of 5,188 separate studies that included 41,946 comparisons between diversified and simplified agricultural practices.
The objective was, obviously, to verify, through the comparison of this research, whether crop diversification was advantageous both for agricultural production and for ecosystem services.
The results were not long in coming and were also confirmed by the statements of Giovanni Tamburini, researcher at the University of Bari and the University of Agricultural Sciences of Uppsala (Sweden) and main author of the study: “The current trend is the simplification of the main cropping systems around the world. We grow monocultures on fields that stretch across homogenized landscapes. The results of our study indicate that diversification can reverse the negative impacts that we observe in simplified forms of cultivation both on the environment and on production itself.” (Tamburini G. et Al. 2020).
The study in question focused on the comparison of production and supply of different ecosystem services between conventional and diversified agriculture, with reference to open-field herbaceous crop systems.
The research focused not only on how much agricultural production comes from the two types of agriculture, but also on the differences in pollination, soil fertility, biological control of harmful insects, and other ecosystem services.
From the comparison of the data it emerged that, in 63% of cases, diversified systems, which are among the foundations of agroecology, simultaneously manage to increase production and improve the provision of more ecosystem services compared to the corresponding conventional systems.
Without mentioning, as mentioned, the multiple studies at a global level, it is clear that it is necessary to change, precisely in the basic concepts, the current agricultural production systems, designed and built often only as a function of hypothetical markets and not related to ecological factors, efficiency of production systems and food needs or other services of the communities surrounding the farms.
Current production models are not only less efficient than biodiverse systems (contrary to those who assert that to feed the world we need to push for specializations and monoculture systems), but they have heavily affected ecosystems (natural agriculture) with a consequent loss of biodiversity which is worrying. noticeably.
In fact, as highlighted by the 2019 FAO global report on the state of biodiversity (Rome, 22 February 2019), there is worrying evidence that biodiversity, which is the basis of our food systems, is disappearing, putting the future of our food, livelihoods, human health and the environment.
The report warns that once food and agricultural biodiversity is lost – that is, most of the species that support our food systems – it cannot be recovered.
Let us remember, in this regard, that the concept of biodiversity for food and agriculture refers to all plants and animals – wild and domestic – that provide food, feed, fuel and fibre. To this we must add the myriad of organisms that support food production through ecosystem services – called “associated biodiversity”. This includes all plants, animals and microorganisms (insects, bats, birds, mangroves, corals, marine plants, earthworms, fungi, bacteria, etc.) that keep soils fertile, pollinate plants, purify water and air, keep fish and forest resources in good health, and help fight parasites and diseases of crops and livestock.
The report prepared by FAO, under the guidance of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, examines all these elements and was based on information specifically provided by 91 countries and on the analysis of the latest global data.
The report denounces a reduction in the diversity of crops, the greater number of animal breeds at risk of extinction and the increase in the percentage of over-exploited fish stocks.
It should be underlined that the report then focuses on agricultural biodiversity and the nutritional consequences of our diets.
In fact, it emerged that of the 6,000 plant species cultivated on the planet, less than 200 contribute to the vast majority of the food produced and, of these, “only nine are used for 66% of total production”.
As for animal species, out of 7745 known livestock breeds, 26% are at risk of extinction.
And again, more than half of the fish resources of all marine ecosystems in the world already experience a condition close to non-sustainability (i.e. the reproduction rate of the species is not ensured), with approximately 33% of marine species being overexploited.
The FAO, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which through the report “The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture” launches a strong and clear message: biodiversity, at the basis of the subsistence mechanisms of the genre human, is disappearing.
Starting from a series of studies produced by the FAO, a team of researchers from the University of Toronto asked themselves the following question: how many and what are the crops on which the global agricultural system is based?
Well soya, wheat, rice and corn, these four plant species alone occupy around 50% of the cultivated land on the planet, the rest is shared by 152 other crops. A fairly small number, if we consider that currently there are around 7 billion people to feed and will reach almost 10 billion by 2050.
The problem of biodiversity loss in the food sector is quite recent. In 1980, in fact, the world had experienced the maximum peak of diversity in crops but, since the large food and seed multinationals established themselves on the market in the 1990s, the food production process has gradually become more uniform and , therefore, impoverishing.
In the livestock sector, global livestock production is based on around 40 animal species, with only a small group providing the vast majority of meat, milk and eggs.
Information from 91 countries reveals that wild food species and many species that contribute to ecosystem services vital to food and agriculture, including pollinators, soil organisms and natural enemies of pests, are rapidly disappearing.
For example, aggregate data from across countries reports that 24% of nearly 4,000 wild food species – mainly plants, fish and mammals – are declining. But the proportion of wild foods in decline is likely even greater because the status of more than half of wild food species is still unknown.
It is clear that we are faced with the need to completely change direction and, to do so, a new education of the rural world is needed, in turn preceded by a new conscience, ethics, training and scientific, technical and political structures that allow its navigation.
This is no easy feat; there are too many opposing interests and pressures coming from financial systems, lobbies and multinationals but the scientific and statistical data do not lend themselves to any other interpretation.
We have little time to change our way of thinking and evaluating but we are at the dawn of a great and true green revolution called Agroecology.
With it, the way of designing production, organisational, commercial and relational systems changes.
This is a “Copernican” revolution that needs to be explored and spread further.