As a company focused on servicing and maintaining Rational ovens for all sorts of catering businesses; it’s not surprising we’re also interested in food sourcing and safeguarding the future. For many of our clients the choice of ingredients and being different is important. This is why the first UN study of biodiversity set our alarm bells ringing.
This warns of “humanity’s failure to protect biodiversity”. The Food and Agriculture Organisation issued the report and the findings are pretty stark. Over the past 20 years, around 20% of the vegetated surface of the earth has become less productive. In other words, our global capacity to produce food is weakening.
What do we mean by biodiversity ? According to definition it is the “variability among living organisms from all sources, including terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part…diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.” On the David Attenborough scale of climate-changing significance, it is way up there.
The Decline of Natural Assets
Scientists involved in the report found evidence the natural support systems underpinning the human diet are deteriorating around the world. Factories, farms and urban infrastructure in particular, are capturing land and pumping out chemicals. This is leading to a debilitating loss in natural assets. These include forests, coral reefs, soil biodiversity, grasslands, and genetic diversity in crop and livestock species.
There is a reduction in the amount of species indirectly involved in food production. Examples of these are crop-pest eating birds and water-purifying mangrove trees. Pollinators are at risk, and they provide essential services to three-quarters of the world’s crops.
But if we are producing more food than ever before, as we are, how is this possible? The sobering reality is that we are relying on ever-expanding monocultures. Incredibly, two-thirds of crop production comes from just nine species. These are maize, sugar cane, wheat, potatoes, rice, soybeans, oil-palm fruit, cassava and sugar beet.
There are at least 6,000 cultivated plant species categorised as being in decline. At the same time wild food sources are becoming harder to find. Agriculture and urbanisation are taking much of the blame with habitat loss, pesticides, pollution, invasive species, pathogens and climate change.
Are We In Danger?
Is this overdependence on a handful of products a problem? Seemingly so, as the report cited the potato famine in Ireland in the 1840s; the 20th century cereal crop failures in the US; and more recently the losses of taro production in Samoa in the 1990s as examples of when overdependence can have a brutal impact on humans.
Even the Lancett has joined the crusade, stating that “our diets are the largest cause of climate change and biodiversity loss is now overwhelming”. The global food system is responsible for around 30% of total greenhouse gas emissions, with the livestock sector on its own accounting for about 14.5% of that figure. Its solution? Halve global meat consumption, and more than double the volume of whole grains, pulses, nuts, fruit and vegetables.
If that’s too radical, in 2016, another report suggested an alternative solution. “Possible policy options include better protection of natural environments and ecosystems, limiting the scope of intensive agriculture, and finding alternatives to pesticides.”
Last word goes to Michael Higgins, Ireland’s president. “Around the world, the library of life that has evolved over billions of years – our biodiversity – is being destroyed, poisoned, polluted, invaded, fragmented, plundered, drained and burned at a rate not seen in human history. If we were coal miners we’d be up to our waists in dead canaries.”