15 December 2022
Food System Transformation to Boost Biodiversity and Feed the Planet
Photo Credit: IFAD
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Food security and nutrition depend on biodiversity.

If we do not address the drivers of biodiversity loss – unsustainable agriculture among them – we risk lives and those of future generations.

We need concerted actions that address the multiple and interconnected drivers of biodiversity loss, guided by a strong post-2020 global biodiversity framework.

By Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO)

As negotiators gather in Montreal to agree on a new deal to protect biodiversity, success will depend on the full engagement of the food and agriculture sectors. Our ecosystems are being pushed to the limit. Conservation alone can’t get the job done. We must take action to conserve, protect, restore, and sustainably manage and use our biodiversity. That means we need to ensure biodiversity is integrated into working landscapes and seascapes, with agriculture – including crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries, and aquaculture – at the fore.

Food security and nutrition depend on biodiversity. Biodiversity – including the genetic diversity across and within species and ecosystems – and the ecosystem services it provides are key to addressing food insecurity and malnutrition, from domesticated crop varieties and livestock breeds to wild species and whole ecosystems. Equally crucial is biodiversity’s role in building resilience to multiple shocks, including climate change, and in supporting livelihoods.

Yet wild food species and many species that contribute to ecosystem services vital to food and agriculture are rapidly disappearing. For example, around 20% of over 13,000 wild food species that are monitored are considered at risk of loss. Pollinators, soil organisms, and natural enemies of pests are also facing stress and declining numbers.

If we do not address the drivers of biodiversity loss – unsustainable agriculture among them – we risk lives and those of future generations. Already over 828 million people suffer from hunger. Two and a half billion people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. And over three billion can’t afford a healthy diet. As populations grow, we must transform our agrifood systems to supply more people with healthier and nutritious food, while conserving and restoring our ecosystems and natural resources.  

That is why the post-2020 global biodiversity framework will not succeed without the active involvement and actions from the food and agricultural sectors.

Unsustainable production and consumption patterns that contribute to biodiversity loss need to be reversed – including by addressing inefficient use of natural resources like water, soils and inputs for production, water scarcity, floods and pollution, land degradation and desertification, soil nutrient depletion, large-scale deforestation, overexploitation of fishery resources and pasture, and of course, climate change. If managed sustainably, agrifood systems contribute to the conservation and restoration of biodiversity.

A key part of the puzzle is a shift to more diverse, nutritious, and sustainably produced diets. As an FAO report on the state of biodiversity for food and agriculture shows, humanity has become reliant on a narrow selection of crops and species. Of 6,000 plant species cultivated for food, nine account for 66% of crop production. Meanwhile, only a handful of livestock species provide the majority of the world’s animal protein.

Global food security is further threatened by complex global supply chains that can break down – as the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine showed only too well, resulting in higher food and production prices.

There are many components to creating diverse, environmentally friendly agrifood systems. We need to back smallholder farmers with the funding, inputs, and knowledge to grow a more varied range of nutritious and resilient crops and other species – including neglected traditional and indigenous foods.

To do this, we need concerted actions that address the multiple and interconnected drivers of biodiversity loss. We must promote agroforestry and sustainable use of biodiversity – including through agroecology, sustainable management of forests and agroforestry production systems and grasslands, ecosystem-based fisheries management, and restoration of degraded landscapes and coastal and seascapes, including mangroves. We need to ramp up effective actions across the entire food value chain – including processing, packaging, and handling – from production to our plates.

Shifting to more sustainable and diverse production systems should go hand-in-hand with encouraging consumers to move to a more balanced and diverse diet comprised of a variety of locally produced foods, including legumes, vegetables, and fruits. This would help sustain healthy local food systems – and healthy consumers. We need to reduce the rampant food waste that sees hundreds of millions of tonnes of edible food spoiled and discarded every year.

This, and more, is what a strong post-2020 global biodiversity framework must deliver.

FAO is ready to throw its weight behind supporting countries to connect the framework with the daily realities of the world’s family farmers, small-scale producers, fisherfolk and fish farmers, livestock keepers and pastoralists, foresters, Indigenous Peoples and local communities, women, and youth. And FAO will respond to every call from countries to provide assistance in implementing the framework.

For our agrifood systems to thrive, we need healthy biodiversity and thriving ecosystems. And for this, negotiators must ensure the framework puts in place all the right elements so that inclusive, resilient, low-emission, and sustainable agrifood systems are part of the solution – for nature, for climate, for food security, for health, for jobs, and for all the SDGs.

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