REDUCED AGROBIODIVERSITY IMPACTS OUR HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Placing the responsibility solely on the individuals’ choices for whole foods to improve their health takes out of context the importance of diversity for the optimum functioning of the human microbiota. Our current diets are fairly “new”, as for the most part our ancestors have had access to a vaster array of grains, wild products, fruit and vegetables. This without even mentioning the degradation of the quality of the products we now have access to.
HOW IS OUR HEALTH AFFECTED?
Over human history, out of about 30 000 edible plant species, 6 000 – 7 000 species have been cultivated for food. Yet, today we only grow approximately 170 crops on a commercially significant scale. Even more surprising, we depend highly on only about 30 of them to provide us with calories and nutrients that we need every day. More than 40 percent of our daily calories come from three staple crops: rice, wheat and maize!
So, human health needs a diverse microbiota, a diverse microbiota needs a diverse diet, and a diverse diet needs diversity in production systems. Global trends are not working in favour of such diversity. We are only exposed to a small percentage of the species and breeds that exist. It almost sounds ironic because nowadays we can find almost the exact same food all around the globe. If you go to any supermarket in any European country you can find mangoes from Pakistan, oranges from Spain and oats from England. The problem with monocultures and little diversification is that it leads to soil degradation and that leads to food that has less and less nutrients.
It is a simple cycle. Plants use sunlight as energy and they pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, they turn it into fuel and grow. As mentioned in Kiss the Ground, 40% off that carbon fuel goes down to the roots. In this way plants feed soil microorganism carbon and the soil microorganisms are bringing plants nutrients. Modern intensive agricultural methods have stripped increasing amounts of nutrients from the soil in which the food we eat grows. Sadly, each successive generation of fast-growing, pest-resistant carrot is truly less good for you than the one before.
The problem with modern agriculture and the intensive use of pesticides is that it kills the microorganisms that feed us. The way our bodies feed is by bacterial cells breaking down the nutrients from the foods we consume, and we then feed off from what these bacteria released in the process. Yet the intense use of chemicals leave the soil depleted of microorganism and therefore of nutrients. A study of British nutrient data from 1930 to 1980, published in the British Food Journal, found that in 20 vegetables the average calcium content had declined 19 percent; iron 22 percent; and potassium 14 percent. Yet another study concluded that one would have to eat eight oranges today to derive the same amount of Vitamin A as our grandparents would have gotten from one.
SOIL DEGRADATION & CLIMATE CHANGE
Only in the past few weeks three documentaries have been released ( Kiss the Ground, Gather & Life On Our Planet) that discuss the impact of soil degradation, loss of indigenous practices and the devastating impact on climate change and the future of humans. Kiss the Ground shows through scientific data how soil degradation and the current way of agriculture have not only deteriorated the quality of the produce we consume, but also have destroyed the soil.
We have 60 harvests left before the upper layer of the soil will be completely destroyed. One of the main problems that we face is the current means of monocultures, the intense use of pesticides, the never ending cycle of genetically modified seeds and then the increased use of pesticides and chemicals. The film offers solutions and hope, but in the grand scheme of the situation the hope is small and feels far away.
As explained in Kiss the Ground, the problem is not the livestock, if anything our hope of regenerating the soil is using cows. Agrobiodiversity is responsible for regulating agricultural pests, climate, and natural disasters such as drought, fire and floods. It play a very important role in enabling agriculture to achieve gains in productivity, improve sustainability, support improved livelihoods for the rural poor and due with the challenge of changing production conditions such as those resulting from climate change, population growth, urbanization and an increasingly degraded environment. Changes will be needed in both the nature and the amounts of agrobiodiversity used.
Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999
Dirt Poor: Have Fruits and Vegetables Become Less Nutritious?
Once neglected, these traditional crops are our new rising stars
WHAT IS HAPPENING TO AGROBIODIVERSITY?
Nurturing diversity in our guts and on our farms to reduce health risks and increase food system resilience
Why Agrobiodiversity Is Important Environmental Sciences Essay
What is agrobiodiversity?