Quantcast
Popular
A coffee farmer picks fresh coffee cherries in Colombia. Neil Palmer / International Center for Tropical Agriculture

Global Food Crops Also Face Earth's Sixth Great Mass Extinction

Human civilization utterly depends on our precious food supplies, but the planet's sixth mass extinction of plants and animals currently underway is also threatening the world's food crops, according to a new report from Bioversity International.

"Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply are just as endangered [as wildlife] and are getting almost no attention," Ann Tutwiler, director general of Bioversity International, wrote in an article for the Guardian.


"If there is one thing we cannot allow to become extinct, it is the species that provide the food that sustains each and every one of the seven billion people on our planet," she said.

According to the report, 940 cultivated species are already threatened. Tutwiler emphasized the impact on popular foods and commodities:

"Take some consumer favorites: chips, chocolate and coffee. Up to 22% of wild potato species are predicted to become extinct by 2055 due to climate change. In Ghana and Ivory Coast, where the raw ingredient for 70% of our chocolate is grown, cacao trees will not be able to survive as temperatures rise by two degrees over the next 40 years. Coffee yields in Tanzania have dropped 50% since 1960."

Additionally, of the estimated 5,538 plant species counted as food, just three—rice, wheat and maize—provide more than 50 percent of the world's plant-derived calories.

"Relying so heavily on such a narrow resource base is a risky strategy for the planet, for individual livelihoods and for nutritious diets," the report states.

As the Guardian pointed out, a disease or pest can sweep through large areas of monocultures, like during the Irish potato famine when a million people starved to death.

Tutwiler noted that the world's incredible diversity of wild or rarely cultivated species—such the beta carotene-rich gac fruit from Vietnam or the vitamin A-filled Asupina banana—"can be a source of affordable, nutritious food—provided we don't let it disappear."

"This 'agrobiodiversity' is a precious resource that we are losing, and yet it can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing," she said. "It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change."

In an interview with FoodTank, Tutwiler commented on how agribusiness and the Western diet has also contributed to the world's loss of biological diversity of food:

"From the production side, a focus on 'feeding the world' rather than 'nourishing the world' has led to a focus on a handful of starchy staples that has contributed to an increase in land planted with maize, wheat, and rice from 66 percent to 79 percent of all cereal area between 1961 and 2013.

On the consumption side, there is a growing global tendency towards Western diets and processed convenience foods. Diets are based more and more on major cereals, plus sugar and oil. So these now dominate our agricultural production. Of the 30,000-ish plant species that can be used as food, today only three—rice, wheat, and maize—provide half the world's plant-derived calories and intakes of pulses, fruits, and vegetables are low.

At the same time, the same pressures that are driving the sixth mass extinction of wild biodiversity are also affecting agricultural biodiversity—habitat transformation, deforestation, invasive species, and climate change. They also lead to disruption in pollinators and natural pest control. Loss of wild biodiversity can lead to erosion of genetic diversity (like the wild relatives of crops, which are a valuable source of traits for breeding), which reduces options for breeding new plant varieties better adapted to climate change."

Bioversity International's new 200-page report, "Mainstreaming Agrobiodiversity in Sustainable Food Systems," highlights how governments and companies should protect and encourage agrobiodiversity to tackle wider global problems such as poverty, malnutrition, environmental degradation and climate change.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Politics
Jess Lundgren / CC BY 2.0

The Trump Administration’s ‘Dishonest’ Attack on Fuel-Economy Standards

By John R. Platt

The Trump administration's plan to freeze fuel-economy standards is "the most spectacular regulatory flip-flop in history," said a retired EPA engineer who helped to develop new the standards under the Obama administration.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Lizzie Carr traveling down the Hudson River on her stand-up paddleboard. Max Guliani / The Hudson Project

Her Stand-Up Paddleboard Is a Platform for Campaigning Against Plastic Pollution

By Patrick Rogers

Lizzie Carr was navigating a stretch of the Hudson River north of Yonkers, New York, recently when she spotted it—a hunk of plastic so large and out of place that she was momentarily at a loss to describe it.

Keep reading... Show less
Science
The Ross Ice Shelf at the Bay of Whales. Michael Van Woert, NOAA

Scientists Study Ice Shelf by Listening to Its Changing Sounds

By Marlene Cimons

Researchers monitoring vibrations from Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf were flabbergasted not long ago to hear something unexpected—the ice was "singing" to them. "We were stunned by a rich variety of time-varying tones that make up this newly described sort of signal," said Rick Aster, professor of geosciences at Colorado State University, one of the scientists involved in the study.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
DSLRVideo.com / Flicker / CC BY-SA 2.0

'Go Out and Vote' Patagonia Endorses Candidates For First Time in Its History

Outdoor brand Patagonia is endorsing candidates for the first time in its history in an effort to protect the country's at-risk public lands and waters.

The civic-minded retailer is backing two Democrats in two crucial Senate races: the re-election of Sen. Jon Tester of Montana; and Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is trying to unseat Republican Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Animals
Desert Bighorn Sheep in Joshua Tree National Park. Kjaergaard / CC BY 3.0

Leaked Trump Administration Memo: Keep Public in Dark About How Endangered Species Decisions Are Made

In a Trump administration memorandum leaked to the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is directing its staff to withhold, or delay releasing, certain public records about how the Endangered Species Act is carried out. That includes records where the advice of career wildlife scientists may be overridden by political appointees in the Trump administration.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Disposable diapers add staggering amounts of waste to landfills. Pxhere

Dirty Diapers Could Be Recycled Into Fabrics, Furniture Under P&G Joint Venture

Disposal diapers can take an estimated 500 years to decompose. That means if Henry VIII wore disposables, they'd probably still be around today.

Although throwaway nappies are undoubtedly convenient, these mostly-synthetic items cause never-ending steams of waste that will take centuries to disappear.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
The swelling barrier lake after a landslide forced evacuations along the Yarlung Zangbo River. YouTube screenshot / CCTV+

6,000 Evacuated After Tibet Landslide

Six thousand people have been evacuated after a landslide in Tibet Wednesday blocked a river that flows downstream into India, creating a lake that could cause major flooding in the subcontinent once the debris is cleared, The Associated Press reported.

Chinese emergency officials announced the evacuations Thursday. The landslide impacted a village in Menling County, but no one was killed or injured, Chinese officials said.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Pexels

Carbon Capture: What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Climate Change

By Daniel Ross

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report lays out a rather grim set of observations, predictions and warnings. Perhaps the biggest takeaway? That the world cannot warm more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.5°C) over pre-industrial levels without significant impacts.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!