The world’s biodiversity is disappearing, leaving a negative impact on global food security, the environment, health, and many people’s livelihoods. Once lost, biodiversity  – “all the species that support our food systems and sustain the people who grow and/or provide our food” – can’t be recovered.

The warning comes from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in the report “State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture.”

The findings – based on information provided by 91 countries and global data – are worrying. Plant diversity in farmers’ fields is decreasing, more livestock breeds are at risk of going extinct and more fish stocks are overfished.

Only nine crops account for 66% of global crop production. And of the 6000 plant species grown for food, “fewer than 200 contribute substantially to global food output.”

Livestock production around the globe is based on 40 animal species, with only a few providing the bulk of meat, milk, and eggs.

To make matters worse, wild food species and other species that contribute to ecosystem services – like pollinators and natural enemies of pests – are quickly vanishing. Same for key ecosystems – forests, mangroves, coral reefs, wetlands…

What is causing this loss?

The reasons most countries cite for the loss of biodiversity are “changes in land and water use and management, followed by pollution, overexploitation and overharvesting, climate change, and population growth and urbanization,” FAO reports.

When it comes to associated biodiversity (like bees), the main reasons for the declining numbers are habitat alteration, deforestation, and intensified agriculture, among others.

What’s being done to fix the problem – and what’s missing

80% of the countries that supplied data to the report indicate using one or more biodiversity-friendly practices. Some examples are organic agriculture, integrated pest management, conservation agriculture, sustainable soil management, agroecology, agroforestry, diversification, etc.

However, according to FAO, this is not enough. The legal and institutional frameworks for conservation of biodiversity “are often inadequate or insufficient.” Thus, the report calls on governments and the international community to create incentive measures and address the core drivers of biodiversity loss, among other suggestions.

FAO also recommends fostering greater collaboration among policy-makers, producer organization, the private sector, and civil society.

Finally, the organization suggests gathering more knowledge about food and agriculture biodiversity to fill in the information gaps that remain – many species have never been identified.

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