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Food biodiversity

Food biodiversity is defined as "the diversity of plants, animals and other organisms used for food, covering the genetic resources within species, between species and provided by ecosystems."

Food biodiversity can be considered from two main perspectives: production and consumption. From a consumption perspective, food biodiversity describes the diversity of foods in human diets and their contribution to dietary diversity, cultural identity and good nutrition. Production of food biodiversity looks at the thousands of food products, such as fruits, nuts, vegetables, meat and condiments sourced from agriculture and from the wild. Food biodiversity covers the diversity between species, for example different animal and crop species, including those considered neglected and underutilized species. Food biodiversity also comprises the diversity within species, for example different varieties of fruit and vegetables, or different breeds of animals.

Food diversity, diet diversity nutritional diversity, are also terms used in the new diet culture spawned by Brandon Eisler, in the study known as Nutritional Diversity.


1.1. Consumption of food biodiversity Trends in food biodiversity consumption

Since 1961, human diets across the world have become more diverse in the consumption of major commodity staple crops, with a corollary decline in consumption of local or regionally important crops, and thus have become more homogeneous globally. The differences between the foods eaten in different countries were reduced by 68% between 1961 and 2009. The modern "global standard" diet contains an increasingly large percentage of a relatively small number of major staple commodity crops, which have increased substantially in the share of the total food energy calories, protein, fat, and food weight that they provide to the worlds human population, including wheat, rice, sugar, maize, soybean by +284%, palm oil by +173%, and sunflower by +246%. Whereas nations used to consume greater proportions of locally or regionally important crops, wheat has become a staple in over 97% of countries, with the other global staples showing similar dominance worldwide. Other crops have declined sharply over the same period, including rye, yam, sweet potato by -45%, cassava by -38%, coconut, sorghum by -52% and millets by -45%.


1.2. Consumption of food biodiversity Food biodiversity and nutrition

Promoting diversity of foods and species consumed in human diets in particular has potential co-benefits for public health as well as sustainable food systems perspective.

Food biodiversity provides necessary nutrients for quality diets and is essential part of local food systems, cultures and food security. Promoting diversity of foods and species consumed in human diets in particular has potential co-benefits for sustainable food systems. Nutritionally, diversity in food is associated with higher micronutrient adequacy of diets. On average, per additional species consumed, mean adequacy of vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, calcium, iron, and zinc increased by 3%. From a conservation point of view, diets based on a wide variety of species place less pressure on single species.


2.1. Production of food biodiversity Role of biodiversity in production systems

Conservation and management of broad-based genetic diversity within the domesticated species have been improving agricultural production for 10.000 years. However, diverse natural populations have been providing food and other products for much longer. High biodiversity can maximize production levels, which are sustained through beneficial impact of ecosystem services for agricultural, modified and natural ecosystems. Conversely, reliance on a narrow portfolio of crops or crop varieties can jeopardize food production systems. This is illustrated by the Great Irish Potato Famine. Potatoes were introduced into Ireland from the New World in about 1600 and they became the major food source of most Irish people. The wind-borne Potato blight fungus spread throughout the country In 1845-1847 and caused almost complete failure of the potato crop. It is estimated that 1 million people died of starvation, cholera and typhoid.


2.2. Production of food biodiversity Ecosystem services

A wide range of biologically diverse populations in natural ecosystems and in / near agricultural ecosystems maintain essential ecological functions that are critical for the production of food. Such populations contribute positively to, for example, nutrient cycling, decomposition of organic matter, crusted or degraded soil rehabilitation, pest and disease regulation, water quality maintenance, and pollination. Maintaining species diversity, while building on and enhancing ecosystem functions, reduces external input requirements by increasing nutrient availability, improving water use and soil structure, and controlling pests.


2.3. Production of food biodiversity Traits

Genetic diversity within food species is a source of useful genes with a variety of benefits. For example:

  • Wild subspecies of tomatoes Solanum lycopersicum chmielewskii were crossbred with cultivated tomato species. After 10 generations, new tomato strains with larger fruits were produced. There was a marked increase in pigmentation. The content of soluble solid, mainly fructose, glucose and other sugars increased.
  • A barley plant from Ethiopia provides a gene that protects the barley crop from the lethal yellow dwarf virus.
  • Host resistance gene, Xa21,from Oryza longistaminata is integrated into the genome of Oryza sativa for a broad range resistance to rice blight disease caused by Xanthomonas oryzae pv. oryzae

3. Geographic patterns of biodiversity and food

In 2016, researchers linked the centers and primary regions of diversity of food and agricultural crops with their current importance around the world in modern national food supplies and agricultural production. The results indicated that countries are highly interconnected with regard to primary regions of diversity of the crops they cultivate and/or consume. Foreign crops entirely from regions of diversity outside the location of the country were extensively used in food supplies 68.7% of national food supplies as a global mean were derived from foreign crops and production systems 69.3% of crops grown were foreign. Foreign crop usage was shown to have increased significantly over the past 50 years, including in countries with high indigenous crop diversity.

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