Biodiversity and food security have been often identified as different concepts. However, Over the last few decades, the growing demand for food and the consequent development of modern agriculture caused a general decline in habitat loss for plants, animals and insects species…

THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM: THE 1960s ‘GREEN REVOLUTION’

In fact, large-scale of mono-culture farms and their over-exploitation and over-harvesting, combined with the dominant effect of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilisers, profoundly altered our planet and the ecosystems we depend on for our survival. A severe decline in farmland biodiversity is a result of these agro-chemical employment with serious effects to all ecosystems necessary to agriculture as pest control, pollination and climate regulation. Pollinators as flying insects, bees, butterflies, bats and birds play a special role in managing agricultural systems. Soil insects, dung beetles, earthworm and micro-organism are indispensable for healthy soil and ecosystems.

Insect apocalypse: “We are witnessing the largest extinction event on Earth since the late Permian and Cretaceous period (65 million years ago). Such events cannot be ignored and should prompt decisive action to avert a catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”

Credit image: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem Source

OUR “FOOD POLLINATOR” ARE DISAPPEARING – HOLDING THE KEY FOR OUR SURVIVAL

It is estimated that animal pollinators are responsible of the production of 87 leading food crops worldwide affecting 35 percent of global agricultural fields. Bees are not just honey providers but also allow food crops to reproduce and their decline pose huge risks to the world’s food supply. Bees are dying for a multi variety of factors: habitat loss, global warming, air pollution etc. According to Greenpeace, biologists have found a “deadly pesticide cocktail” of 150 different chemical residues in bees pollen. The world’s agro-chemical companies are to blame for this disaster, but their business is too highly profitable for still defending a no change in pesticides policy.

Photo Credit:Kevin Frayer/Getty Images Hand pollination in China is becoming a common practice due to cheap labour. Source

We need to realise that biodiversity is crucial for our food systems and they are mutually interconnected and interdependent. The latest 2019 report by FAO is the first-ever report on the global state of biodiversity and food security: “Once lost, all the species that support our food systems and sustain the people who grow and provide our food, cannot be recovered”. The study shows many example on how the loss of biodiversity can impact people’s lives and its consequences. Overall the production would be more vulnerable to disease and pests. The worst-case scenarios would be similar to what happen in 1840s with the Irish potato famine.

However, when we think about “biodiversity” we don’t relate it to food, and the lost of wild food is almost never considered

©FAO/Raphy Favre – A variety of dried maize cobs in Sudan. Source

Today, we are relying on fewer varieties of plants and animals for food production. According to Biodiversity International, just three crops (maize, wheat and rice) are making half of the human calorie intake, and this is a problem because humans needs a wide selection of nutrients for their survival. Local knowledge and culture are imperative for Agro-biodiversity and the raise of quality-food in many areas of the World, making this in big conflict with the pressing necessity of producing food at lower costs and higher yield.

Source

“The loss of biodiversity is a silent killer. It’s different from climate change, where people feel the impact in everyday life. With biodiversity, it is not so clear but by the time you feel what is happening, it may be too late.”

Pașca Palmer ex executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity

WE NEED TO CHANGE THE WAY WE PRODUCE OUR FOOD…BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE

Source: fao.org

Globally, there is a widely-cited understanding that shifting to a sustainable model of farming is key to overcome conflicts between agricultural practices and environmental conservation. Implementing methods of biodiversity maintenance through fostering livelihoods, public health and ecosystems and increasing ecological and socio-economic benefits at all levels of farming, it’s necessary. Agroecology went mainstream into development debates as a more sustainable and holistic alternative: by integrating biological farming principles together with local knowledge of peasant farmers, regenerative farming systems sustain smallholder local production through promoting social, economic and environmental levels of sustainability.

To tackle the loss of biodiversity is important to start locally. It is necessary the development of rural livelihood through the empowerment of the farmers by giving to them a fair price for their products.

Agroforestry, is a great model of Agroecological approaches by providing ecosystem services. The interacting combinations of trees, crops and sometimes animals address biodiversity conservation, soil degradation, water quality and climate change. A wide-range of trees (legume trees) fix a great amount of nitrogen and make it available to other plants. These nutrient cycling improve soil structure and water infiltration, increasing direct production of food.

This farmer grows around 22 different crops, in the heart of the Costa Rican forest: he said “We need to have crops and trees living together in the ecosystem”  Source: weforum.org

However our “modern” conventional systems reject these land-integrated approaches, it’s time to value the precious potential of these practices for the benefit of the long run. The costs of negligence are huge, not only in terms of environmental devastation but also in terms of unpredictable scenarios for the entire human population. We need to reconsider everything that is made in the past and learn from that lessons by bringing farming back to nature as the only way forward. The scenario is clear: there is not replacement to such losses and the time left to reverse this situation is not much.

THE FOUNDATIONS OF OUR FOOD, HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT ARE UNDER SEVERE THREAT: BUT AS CONSUMERS WHAT CAN WE DO?

The role of the consumer here is crucial. An increasing awareness on the truly costs of cheap food is becoming more widespread among the public. In a globalised World, transparency and traceability are growing importance for a better understanding of the long food supply-chain. In particular, public health concerns, fraudulent activities in the food chain and safety standards are suddenly becoming relevant. The consumers have enormous power to drive change, they look more at where the ingredients comes from, or if the cultivation practices have involved biodiversity conservation measures or ethical practices. Today the consumers are more educated about these matters and have more informations than ever before in history. However, for small-scale producers is hard to comply with traceability standards, due to the lack of access to financing and technologies. By creating better connections within farmers, markets and consumers, agricultural value chains can generate income growth and job opportunities more locally and push toward sustainable approaches of farming. More awareness, education and responsability are keys for change. However, there is not everywhere the same reality and although consumers are better educated and progress have be done, they tend to buy cheaper food, leaving the problem in a vicious cycle. There is still a lot to understand about human behaviour and how it relates to sustainability challenges. Many researchers are exploring the implication of new tactics that can be integrated in practice to encourage sustainability and design transformations that could induce to a better balance between people and nature.

WHY IMPLEMENTING THE GMO “STRATEGY” IS NOT THE SOLUTION?

Since their release began in 1994, Genetically Modified Food (GMO) have been raising controversial debates on the potential side effects on human health, that cannot be excluded also on the environment. However, the main purpose of GM crops was the reduction of pesticides use, the improvement of nutrient values and food quality while increasing crop yields and creating resistance to pests and diseases. It seems great, right? According to the Institute of Responsible Technology, a group of anti-gmo activists, “GMO have been linked to toxic and allergic reactions, sickness, sterile and dead livestock and damage to every organ studied in lab animals” but yet the risks on human health remain unknown. One of the main controversies of GM foods is also the potential of these to affect biodiversity. Regarding the effect of GMO on the environment, this persist to be a confusing area because it’s difficult to measure the effects of these on the long-term, rather than consequences that can be observed in the short-term. It’s not easy with these premises trust that biotechnological development will still respect biodiversity and the environment, if there are still contrasting opinions around the outcomes of such practices. Although it is expected that scientific progress bring in repeatedly “solutions” of any kind to different problems, such “risky solutions” should be avoided in first place, also because more safe and sustainable options are still available, and proven to be successful, but maybe not in terms of profitability for the same big corporations who decide and own our future in their hands, opening then a window into the discourse of the global exploitation of life itself. 

THE BIG QUESTION OFTEN ASKED IS THIS: Can Agroecology feed the world with a growing population toward 9.6 billion in 2050? A radical rethink of the economical and social systems that keep farmers trapped to produce for international market is decisive for agroecology to scale up globally.