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Biodiversity: A Food Crisis

As the world’s population rises, food security declines. The lack of nutrient-rich foods persists across the globe, as land cannot support certain crops due to rising temperatures and unsustainable practices.

In United States grocery stores, the lack of diversity in fruits and vegetables mirrors the lack of diversity globally. “Biodiversity warrior” Cary Fowler reports that 7,100 varieties of apples existed in the U.S. in the 1800’s;  today, 6800 of these species are now extinct.

Why not save the best varieties of crops?

Certain crops could offer traits adaptable to climate change, but may not seem economically viable now. However, in this era of climate change, such options become necessary.

Crop diversity serves as the biological foundation of food; however, this foundation collapses as temperatures rise. To protect this foundation, Fowler and other researchers collect and preserve seeds in a “seed bank” for plant researchers.

Research on these preserved seeds must continue in order to place crops ready for climate change in the fields. In recent years, however, conflict in regions like Iraq and Afghanistan threatened the security of seed banks.

Who bears the burden of climate change?

According to Fowler, the coldest growing seasons will become significantly hotter than the hottest in the past. Climate change affects sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia more than any other regions. Consequently, the burden of rising temperatures falls on the most impoverished regions in the world. At this time, crops in these regions cannot adopt to these mounting burdens of climate change.

In addition, greater variability in precipitation and the delayed onset of seasons induce “climate shocks.” These shocks could threaten plant growth and, consequently, the food security of families across Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Fowler predicts a 30% decrease in the production of maize in South Africa by 2030. Maize provides 50% of the nutrition in South Africa currently.

The “mass extinction” of biodiversity does not garner the attention it needs, notes Fowler, because biodiversity seems like an environmental issue, not a human one. However, with climate change posing a significant threat to the biodiversity of crops, food production may need to increase by 70% globally–and nearly 100% in developing countries–by 2050.

Fowler asserts that if crop diversity is not addressed, “we will watch children starve to death on television.”

– Ellery Spahr

Sources: National Geographic Magazine, TED, Scientific and Development Network
Photo: HPJC