Sustaining agricultural biodiversity

May 22 marks International Day for Biological Diversity.

Biodiversity is the basis for agriculture, therefore is crucial for sustainable food production, climate change mitigation and maintaining ecosystem services. However, biodiversity – specifically agricultural biodiversity – currently faces numerous challenges, like climate change, which affects its surrounding, growth and survival. 
 
According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, agricultural biodiversity “includes all components of biological diversity of relevance to food and agriculture, and all components of biological diversity that constitute the agricultural ecosystems.”
 
Crops For the Future looks at agricultural biodiversity through facilitating the wider use of underutilised crops for food and non-food uses, which can contribute to imminent challenges faced today – such as food and nutrition security. Underutilised crops are domesticated plant species that have been used for centuries as food, fibre, fodder, oil or medicinal properties, but have been reduced in importance over time owing to particular supply and use constraints. 
 
At a global scale, agricultural output is increasingly homogeneous. Fewer than 30 plant species account for more than 95% of humankind’s food needs and just three major crops; wheat, maize and rice, provide over 60% of our food supply. 
 
The cultivation of underutilised crop species and their incorporation into the diets of humans and livestock have a number of potential benefits, including:
 
Improved food security by reducing our dependency on only major crops for food and non-food uses
Providing a greater range of options to address climate change
Optimising land resources by cultivating soils that are marginal or unsuitable for the world's major crops
Promoting access to better nutrition for communities, particularly in the developing regions of the world
Diversifying income generating opportunities for small and medium-scale farmers
 
Agricultural biodiversity is at the forefront in developing new options for agricultural systems that can optimise the use of natural resources and the need for costly inputs, making farms more economic and less dependent on external input. Additionally, agricultural biodiversity helps enhance agricultural ecosystems become more resilient and productive; and can directly contribute towards improving nutrition and strengthening livelihoods, especially of the poor. 
 
In a volatile and growing world, exploring new options for the vast diversity of crops we have is crucial to sustaining agricultural biodiversity.