Plants account for 80% of the human diet. So, with 30,000 edible plants on the planet, you’d think we’d be making the most of the varieties available.
However, the following mind-boggling numbers tell a different story:
Out of those 30,000, only 7,000 have been used by as food throughout the history of humanity. Today, the actual plants we eat have been reduced to 150. Out of the 30 crops that feed the world, just 3: wheat, rice and maize, make over 50% of the human diet.
These numbers are not only shocking, they’re also having a serious impact on the future of world food security.
Monoculture is threatening biodiversity
Over the last century, modern farming practices have focused on mass, intensive cultivation of single varieties of the same types of crops.
Traditional farming methods such as intercropping, and companion planting have been replaced with monoculture: growing fewer varieties for higher yields and maximum profits.
The results are homogenised crops with a genetic uniformity that has weakened their natural immunity, making them more vulnerable to climate changes, pests and diseases.
If crops are to adapt and thrive in an unpredictable climate, genetic diversity is essential.
Scientists need access to genetic variations of crops in order to find genes that will increase the crops’ immunity and help them adapt to climate change.
Yet 75% of crop strains and varieties have already been lost through monoculture farming practices.
Wild strains must be conserved
According to the FAO, adaptation and the conservation of genetic diversity is ‘not merely an option, but an imperative for human survival’.
Wild strains are crucial for making improvements to their domesticated relatives by helping them become hardier and more resistant to threats.
Monoculture is putting these wild strains at risk of extinction.
We are still in time to minimise the threats to biodiversity. The genetic resources at our disposal such as germ plasm collection and gene banks can be used to conserve and preserve genetic diversity of crops and plants while also enabling us to share the benefits in a fair and equitable way.
Hydroponic cultivation uses 90% less water than conventional soil-based farming and can easily adapt to extreme climates conditions. A wider variety of crops can be grown in smaller areas and can also be cultivated in urban locations using stacked, vertical farming systems. Hydroponic methods are already being used to re-introduce long forgotten varieties of ancient crops which respond well to non-soil-based cultivation.
Genetic preservation, improved agricultural policies, sustainable approaches to farming, even convincing consumers to change their eating habits by introducing a wider variety of plants into their everyday diet, can all help to preserve the biodiversity of our plants and ensure food security for the future.