A recent study by Bioversity International and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) reviewed the levels of research, conservation status and documentation for 1097 cultivated vegetables. This review is to support the uptake of a broad range of crops as “strategic assets” to help reduce high malnutrition rates. The study found that 93% of the species studied are neglected in all these three areas (research, conservation and documentation), in particular those from Africa and the Asia-Pacific Region.
In a recent Financial Times op-ed, Dr. Rajiv Shah, President of the Rockefeller Foundation said, “Global food policies must encourage the production of a diverse range of foods naturally rich in the vitamins and minerals people need to be healthy.” This article followed another thought piece where Shah called for “a modern food revolution that feeds, nourishes and sustains us.” This vision for a sustainable food system is one that drives the innovative work here at Bioversity International, to show how agricultural biodiversity can both nourish people and sustain the planet.
Thousands of species of plants exist on farms, and in the wild, that we can use for food. Within these species are millions of varieties that can improve nutrition, and have a low environmental impact. However, researchers, food companies and consumers often neglect these crops, which receive little in the way of research and development investment.
Shah draws attention to efforts to address nutritional deficiencies by fortifying staple crops with vitamins, pointing out that while this approach has saved lives, it has distorted demand. “Subsidies for cereal crops are such that only 2% of US cropland is dedicated to growing fruit and vegetables,” he comments.
Nutrition guidelines recommend consumption of at least 400g of fruits and vegetables every day. If every person on the planet tried to consume their recommended daily amount, they would find the global supply of fruits and vegetables falls 22% short – a shortfall that rises to 50% in some low-income countries.