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Agricultural biodiversity is the diversity of crops and their wild relatives, trees, animals, microbes and other species that contribute to agricultural production. This diversity - which results from thousands of years of interactions among people and the environment - is a key component of healthy diets and human health. Food biodiversity is crucial to fight malnutrition and diet-related diseases. A diverse diet increases the likelihood of consuming adequate amounts of the full range of nutrients essential to human health.

In agricultural production, agrobiodiversity supports long-term productivity, resilience and multiple ecosystem services, boosting yields in quality and quantity, increasing soil and water quality, and reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers. It also makes farmers’ livelihoods more resilient, reducing yield losses due to climate change and pest damage. Broadening the types of cultivated plants is also good for the environment, increasing the abundance of pollinators and beneficial soil organisms, and reducing the risk of pest epidemics. Agricultural biodiversity also keeps open options for unknown future needs, when conserved. This can happen in gene banks as well as on farms, where agrobiodiversity is conserved by using it.

Nourishing people

The world relies on just three crops – rice, wheat and maize – for more than 50% of its plant-derived calories. Yield of these crops has plateaued.  

  • Tens of thousands of alternative crops can substitute and complement these staples. Sorghum, millets and quinoa are examples of crops that can grow in difficult environments, have high nutrient content and have potential to increase their yields.  

One in three people in the world suffers from micronutrient deficiencies and almost 2 billion people are overweight or obese.  

  • Food biodiversity is a source of high-nutrient species and varieties.  

The production of fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds falls about 22% short of population need according to nutrition recommendations.  

  • Many nutritious fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds available in the wild or in traditional farming systems are not well known and could be used to improve nutrition.


Sustaining the planet

Agriculture contributes around 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is the single largest user of fresh water on the planet.  

  • Biodiversity-based solutions are at the heart of agroecological practices, which intensify production while reducing pressures on the environment.  

Agricultural lands cover about 38% of global land area.  

  • Using biodiversity-based approaches on this vast area of land can reduce emissions and runoff, decrease the need for synthetic inputs, improve soil quality, encourage pollinators and conserve varieties and species.  

Every decade until 2050, agricultural production will reduce by 2% while demand will increase by 14%.   

  • Agricultural biodiversity is a source of species and varieties that are tolerant to different climate extremes – from drought to flooding and extreme temperatures. Using biodiversity-based solutions on farms can also decrease emissions that contribute to climate change.  

Agricultural biodiversity and the UN Sustainable Development Goals

The loss of agricultural biodiversity in our global food production systems is an issue of increasing concern, recognized by the Rio Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

When we lose agricultural biodiversity, we also lose the options to make our diets healthier and our food systems more resilient and sustainable.

Using and safeguarding agricultural and tree biodiversity can help meet multiple Sustainable Development Goals and Targets.

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Mainstreaming Agrobiodiversity in Sustainable Food Systems

A food systems approach integrates all the processes and infrastructure, from seed selection through growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, eating and ultimately managing waste.

Good food systems nourish people and nurture the environment. They are sustainable and enhance environmental, economic and social health.

Agricultural biodiversity is a critical component of a sustainable food system. Without agricultural biodiversity, a food system cannot be sustainable.

A recent Bioversity International's book, Mainstreaming Agrobiodiversity in Sustainable Food Systems: Scientific Foundations for an Agrobiodiversity Index, summarizes the most recent evidence on how to use agricultural biodiversity to provide nutritious foods through harnessing natural processes.  The evidence described provides the foundations for identifying indicators for an Agrobiodiversity Index. 

Download the book