The spice of life: The fundamental role of diversity on the farm and on the plate
This synthesis paper (PDF) by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) discusses why agricultural biodiversity and dietary diversity are important, the relationship between them, the reasons why they are at risk, and what can be done to foster them. The world is witnessing major shifts in dietary patterns and – in parallel – the threat to agricultural biodiversity. The implications of human health and food system resilience are significant, and interconnected. Agricultural landscapes are becoming increasingly simplified as the number of crops and crop varieties growth decline. Such heavy reliance on a narrow range of crops is risky; key risk is that it undermines the ability of agricultural to adapt to climate change and cope with pests and diseases. Coinciding with the threat to agricultural biodiversity is the trend towards the homogenization of diets, which is most pronounce among the increasingly urbanised segment. This results in increased diet-related health problems, due to which social and economic costs will rise. Diverse agricultural production and diets can be mutually reinforced. Agricultural biodiversity is vital for the functioning of agroecosystems and dietary diversity is a key element of human health. The current focus of food systems should be reoriented towards a more holistic approach, highlighting connections between all different elements in the system. Food systems and policies that affect them need to become more inclusive and responsive to the needs of farmers and consumers alike. Multi-stakeholder approaches are needed to ensure the voices of all relevant groups are heard. There are five actions proposed for fostering diversity: 1) Reorient food, nutrition and agricultural policies, promoting food system analysis can help; 2) Use markets to support diversity in production and consumption; 3) Promote ad maintain local crop varieties; 4) Nurture the biocultural heritage and traditional knowledge that underpin much of the world’s remaining agricultural biodiversity; 5) Increase awareness and catalyse change through innovative multi-stakeholder approaches.