An Eco-sustainable World
Planet AgricultureSustainable nutrition

Agricultural biodiversity and human health

Agricultural biodiversity and human health

According to the report on “Health and Biodiversity” presented by the WHO at the 14th World Congress for Public Health, the significant contribution of biodiversity and ecosystem services to the improvement of human health through the impact on air and water quality is demonstrated , nutrition, non-communicable and infectious diseases, drugs.
Furthermore, according to a recent report by Chatham House (Royal Institute of International Affairs, commonly known as Chatham House, which is a British study centre, specialized in geopolitical analysis and global political-economic trends) launched in collaboration with UNEP and Compassion in World Farming (Major international non-profit organization for the welfare and protection of farm animals), it was highlighted that the food system is the first driver of biodiversity loss.
The global food system is in fact the first driver of biodiversity loss, with agriculture alone representing a threat to 24,000 of the 28,000 (86%) species at risk of extinction. As highlighted in the following figure, the data tell us, among other things, that the global rate of species extinction today is higher than the average rate of the last 10 million years and that it could only be reversed under the condition of green model of agri-food production.

The “cheap food paradigm” has significantly influenced the increase in inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, energy, land and water. This paradigm leads to a vicious circle: the lower cost of food production creates a greater demand for food that must be produced at a lower cost, increasing production and causing further deforestation and land desertification.
Furthermore, if we continue in this direction, biodiversity loss will continue to accelerate unless we change the way we produce food.
Among other things, further destruction of ecosystems and habitats will threaten our ability to ensure the survival of human populations.
To do all this, however, a change in diets is necessary to allow many lands to return to nature and to allow the widespread adoption of agriculture that is more respectful of nature without increasing the pressure of converting natural areas into agricultural areas.
The more the first action is put into practice, through changing diets, the more possibilities are created for the second and third actions.
The current food system is a double-edged sword, created especially in recent decades in order to produce more food, faster and at lower costs, without taking into account the hidden costs due to the loss of biodiversity and its essential functions for life and for our health.
This is why we urgently need to reform the way we produce and consume food. Agricultural biodiversity cannot be protected if we do not act on food biodiversity.
Among other things, food biodiversity, understood as biodiversity of the plants, animals and other organisms that make up our food, contributes in multiple ways to a healthy and diversified diet.
In this sense, various studies on the composition of foods highlight that the nutrient content (macro and micronutrients) can vary very markedly both from species to species and between cultivars of the same species. In particular, wild varieties are usually more nutritious than domestic ones.
Furthermore, it must be reiterated that endemic or native species adapt better to the environmental conditions of the territory and, therefore, often require fewer external inputs, such as water or plant protection products which cause serious problems for the health of consumers, farmers and for ecological conditions. of agricultural and natural landscapes.
In fact, to defend themselves from environmental stress such as high temperatures, drought and frost, which cause the production of free radicals that can damage their DNA, plants implement resistance mechanisms that activate the production of molecules with antioxidant properties.
For this reason it is necessary to implement agroecological systems that contribute to consuming indigenous plant species which, as such, have developed defenses against environmental conditions or external agents, also increasing the content of protective substances in our diet, such as terpenes, and very important molecules such as carotenoids and vitamin E, phenolic compounds such as flavonoids, alkaloids and nitrogen and sulfur-based compounds which exert a very effective antioxidant action.
For example, prolonged consumption of polyphenols can help reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, osteoporosis and neurodegenerative diseases, protecting the body from the damage that free radicals cause to DNA.
It is not for nothing that the so-called Farm to Fork Strategy of the European Union inextricably links the two moments of the agri-food system: the agricultural companies (Farm), with the need to increase agricultural biodiversity through agroecological systems, and the final consumer (Fork = fork) which must increase the biodiversity of its diet.
The combination of food biodiversity and agricultural biodiversity is the only way to make people and the planet live better, dusting off the famous phrase: mens sana in corpore sano (“healthy mind in healthy body”), a Latin phrase taken from a paragraph of Satires of Juvenal. In short, there is a perfect synchrony (and logic) that inextricably unites the health of the human species with that of the planetary ecosystem; we cannot regulate one without intervening on the other and vice versa.
Furthermore, as reported by the report prepared by Chatham House, the impact of this race to the bottom in food is not limited to the loss of biodiversity. The global food system is one of the main drivers of climate change and represents approximately 30% of the total emissions produced by man: a change in our diet therefore becomes a necessity, to return the lands stolen from nature and with the aim of developing an agriculture that is increasingly respectful of natural ecosystems.
Life cycle assessment (LCA) allows you to systematically address environmental impacts along supply chains, representing a reference methodology that can be applied to evaluate food systems.
It is therefore necessary to adopt assessment systems based on LCA to determine the impacts of diet systems and related food supplies on biodiversity loss and which aspects need to be further elaborated to ensure a complete assessment of the impacts on biodiversity due to production and food consumption (Crenna E. et al. 2019).

Guido Bissanti

This article is one of the summaries emerging from the forthcoming book on agroecology (spring 2024) signed by the undersigned and the other researchers: Giovanni Dara Guccione (CREA-PB), Barbara Manachini (UNIPA), Paola Quatrini (UNIPA) and with the preface by Luca Mercalli (president of the Italian Meteorological Society).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *