Decline in Food Diversity- What does it Mean for Us?

Our world’s food system consists of fewer crop species than 50 years ago, raising concerns over its resilience worldwide, a recent study has shown.


Our world’s food system consists of fewer crop species than 50 years ago, raising concerns over its resilience worldwide, a recent study has shown. But what are the consequences of a decline in food diversity, and how could they effect us?

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA journal, highlights the emergence of a globalised diet, a trend in which the staple diet of different countries around the world become similar. Wheat, rice, potatoes and sugar have been shown to now be the most commonly consumed crop on the planet, with wheat now being consumed in 97% of all countries.

Consumption of soybean, a once more obscure crop, has also risen, and it is now consumed in 75% of all countries, while crops of sunflower and palm oil have also increased to keep up with worldwide demand.

While the consumption of some crops is increasing, others have declined steadily over the past 50 years, with the biggest decreases being seen in millet, rye, yams, sweet potato and cassava.

Declining diversity causes a number of global issues, the most significant being the risk posed to crops from threats such as drought, disease, pests and even climate change. Larger areas of the same crop leaves the plant more vulnerable, and more likely to fail if there threats take hold in the area. And with more people worldwide relying on these crops, more people will be affected should the crop fail.

With so much at stake, journal co-author Luigi Guarino has warned: “The price of failure of any of these crops will be very high”

A lack of diversity in worldwide diets has also led to health concerns, suggesting that less nutrient-rich foods will be consumed worldwide in favour of high energy carbohydrates. This poses a greater risk of illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

The subject of crop diversity has caused concern amongst a number of nations, with the European Parliament calling last month for all EU countries to take steps to preserve the biological and genetic diversity of crops so that more resilient and adaptable varieties can be bread. Various MEPs have blamed the decline of diversity on a greater focus being placed on the larger-scale crops in the food market, whilst largely ignoring the more obscure or localised ones.

With crop diversity declining, the Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that a further third of crops may disappear by 2050 if nothing is done to increase their resilience and ability to adapt to ever-changing conditions.

Image sourced: Derek Harper

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