priority as illustrated in Goal 2 of achieving “Zero Hunger” of the Sustainable Development Goals. In seeking to achieve this goal, UN countries recognise the unique role of role of biodiversity in delivering food security, which is a prerequisite for ending hunger. According to UN data, more than 790 million people worldwide still lack regular access to adequate amounts of dietary energy¹. This is in addition to the fact that by 2050, world population is expected to reach 9 billion which in terms of food availability means that global food production would need to rise by about 60%². We are clearly headed for a food crisis and the big question is how we are going to prepare for it and ensure that food security is not further compromised.
Critical role of biodiversity in our food production systems
Biodiversity is often the unseen factor underlying food production. Whereas a lot of us think that intensive farming techniques or farming at ever increasing spaces of land, pesticides, fertilisers and potentially even the use of genetically modified crops can help increase food production and help ensure food security, biodiversity plays a much more critical role.
Food production relies on biodiversity and on the multiple services provided by ecosystems. It would be impossible to cultivate thousands and thousands of different crop varieties and animal breeds without the rich genetic pool of the species they originated from. It is estimated that about 100,000 species of insects, as well as birds and mammals, pollinate more than two-thirds of food plants and are responsible for 35% of the world’s crop production.
Similarly, it would not be possible to keep livestock, fish or grow trees and plants without the often unseen contribution of microorganisms and invertebrates on our land and waters. The variability and availability of living organisms ranging from micro-organisms (e.g. bacteria, fungi, protozoa) to larger meso-fauna (e.g. acari and springtails) are essential to agriculture as they ensure natural processes can take place contributing to important functions, such as soil fertility.
Everything is connected
Beyond helping to produce food, we often forget that different species not only help create food production but are also sources of food themselves. A key example illustrating this is fish and our marine resources: fish provides about 3 billion people with almost 20% of their intake of animal protein. At the same time, about 30% of major marine stocks are overexploited, producing lower yields than their biological and ecological potential and are in need of strict management plans to restore them to their full and sustainable productivity². A similar picture emerges for livestock. While we are generally unaware of it, 20% of all global local livestock breeds, meaning breeds reported in only one country, are at risk of extinction². In other areas of the world, bushmeat and other edible wild mammals, reptiles, birds and insects that live in trees and forests can account for up to 85% of the protein intake of people living in or near forests².
We need to recognise that land, healthy soils, water and plant genetic resources are key inputs into food production, and their growing scarcity in many parts of the world makes it imperative to use and manage them sustainably⁴. In other words, biodiversity is inextricably linked to our ability of produce and grow food. As a result, protecting biodiversity and managing our resources sustainably is not just an exercise to engage in for preserving unique features of our planet; it is actually vital to our survival.