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Market with diverse local food in Solok, Sumatra, Indonesia. Credit: Bioversity International/G. Molin

On the International Day for Biological Diversity, Juan Lucas Restrepo, Director General of Bioversity International, reflects on the importance of agrobiodiversity as the foundation of food systems and the need to promote urgent changes that stop its loss.

Today marks the International Day for Biological Diversity. It will not be a happy celebration but rather a day to call for reflection and promote urgent changes that stop the massive loss of biodiversity, a daily phenomenon which puts in doubt our own survival, at least as we know it.

On 6 May, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published a report where experts from 50 countries estimated that around one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades. The causes are mostly anthropogenic (caused by people) and therefore solutions will also have to be people-led.

If, for animal species, the imminent disappearance of the black rhinoceros and other symbolic species exemplifies what can happen, in the agricultural sector the situation is equally serious. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) estimates that, over the last century, more than 90% of the cultivated seed varieties have been lost, as well as half of the diversity of domestic animals for human consumption.

The theme of this year's International Day for Biological Diversity is ‘Our Biodiversity, Our Food, Our Health,’ because the future capacity of agriculture to nourish us depends directly on the agrobiodiversity that is present in the production systems and its linkages with the market. Scientific evidence shows that a more varied diet improves health and quality of life. The Ministries of Health should be the most interested in promoting more diverse food chains.

There is also enough evidence to show that diverse production systems are more resilient to climate pressures and help reduce crop losses caused by pests and diseases, as well as the costs to control them. It is encouraging to see how global companies like Syngenta are beginning to actively promote greater biodiversity in the field margins of commercial crops, taking steps in the right direction.

A greater agrobiodiversity of plants, animals, insects and microorganisms in production systems also provides ecosystem services and positive externalities for society, such as more pollinators, the protection and restoration of soils, and a better quality of water and air. Finally, a more biodiverse agriculture generates economic opportunities for millions of producers who do not find a dignified way of life by producing only a few staple crops, while they could devote part of their efforts to produce diverse foods of greater value that can be consumed regionally.

As we build a structural alliance between Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), these are exactly the challenges we are addressing. We are joining our strengths around a common vision of ‘food systems and landscapes that sustain the planet, drive prosperity and nourish people.’

We are convinced that, leveraging both new technologies and traditional knowledge, working closely with national innovation systems and development agencies, and providing global and local policy setting process with scientific evidence and impact pathways, we will be a small but important player that helps to "bend the curve of biodiversity loss" and leave to future generations a biodiverse planet that can sustain a peaceful and harmonious human race.

Juan Lucas Restrepo
Director General, Bioversity International
CEO-Designate of the Alliance between Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)

Twitter @jlucasrestrepo

This article is adapted from the original ‘Nuestra Biodiversidad, nuestra comida, nuestra salud’ and reproduced with kind permission from Portafolio. Read the original here.

"There cannot be a better theme for the International Day for Biological Diversity than Our Biodiversity, Our Food, Our Health" says Juan Lucas Restrepo.

Find out why in his video message to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Visit the International Day for Biological Diversity's website