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Enabled or disabled: is the environment right for using biodiversity to improve nutrition?

Balanced meal of a staple food (rice), protein-rich food (beans), vegetables (cabbage) and a fruit (orange, avacado). Shown during a training day on dietary diversity, Vihiga County, Kenya. Credit: Bioversity International/J. Boedecker
Balanced meal of a staple food (rice), protein-rich food (beans), vegetables (cabbage) and a fruit (orange, avacado). Shown during a training day on dietary diversity, Vihiga County, Kenya. Credit: Bioversity International/J. Boedecker

A new paper discusses the benefits of biodiversity for nutrition and explores what an enabling environment for biodiversity to improve nutrition might look like.

A new paper entitled ‘Enabled or disabled: is the environment right for using biodiversity to improve nutrition?’ discusses the benefits of biodiversity for nutrition and explores what an enabling environment for biodiversity to improve nutrition might look like. Bioversity International scientist Danny Hunter is lead author on the paper, and Teresa Borelli is one of the co-authors.

How can we ensure that 9 billion people will have access to a nutritious and healthy diet that is produced in a sustainable manner by 2050? Despite major advances, our global food system still fails to feed a significant part of humanity adequately. While transformations in global agri-food value chains have made a greater variety of food commodities available to consumers in many countries around the globe, they have also led to greater homogeneity in the global food system, compromising dietary diversity and efforts to address the triple burden of malnutrition.

Malnutrition affects one in three people on the planet. Of these, 150 million children are deficient in one or more micronutrients – the vitamins and minerals that are essential for proper growth and development such as iron, zine and vitamin A – while nearly 2 billion people are overweight or obese. Diversifying food systems and diets to include nutrient-rich species can help reduce malnutrition, while contributing other multiple benefits such as healthy ecosystems.

While research continues to demonstrate the value of incorporating biodiversity into food systems and diets, perverse subsidies, and barriers often prevent this, resulting in food systems that remain focused on increasing production of a narrow range of staple crops and animal species while much of our food biodiversity remains neglected or lost. 

Countries like Brazil have shown that, by strategic actions and interventions, it is indeed possible to create better contexts to mainstream biodiversity for improved nutrition into government programs and public policies. Earlier this year a new Ordinance on Sociobiodiversity – a public policy approved by the federal government for recommendation and regulation – was signed by the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Social Development and Fight Against Hunger. The ordinance is the first to define and support nutritionally important native species. Both ministries believe it will help to increase knowledge and promote sustainable use of species of sociobiodiversity and its consequent conservation in Brazil.

Yet elsewhere progress is slow, with only a handful of global and national policy mechanisms or processes that effectively join biodiversity with agriculture and nutrition efforts.

A new paper ‘Enabled or disabled: is the environment right for using biodiversity to improve nutrition?’ discusses the benefits of biodiversity for nutrition and explores what an enabling environment for biodiversity to improve nutrition might look like, including examples of steps and actions from a multi-country project that other countries might replicate. Finally, it examines what it might take to create enabling environments in order to mainstream biodiversity into global initiatives and national programs and policies on food and nutrition security.

With demand for new thinking about how we improve agriculture for nutrition and growing international recognition of the role biodiversity, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development presents an opportunity to move beyond business-as-usual to more holistic approaches to food and nutrition security.

Download the paper

For more information, contact Danny Hunter

Photo: Balanced meal of a staple food (rice), protein-rich food (beans), vegetables (cabbage) and a fruit (orange, avacado). Shown during a training day on dietary diversity, Vihiga County, Kenya. Credit: Bioversity International/J. Boedecker

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