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4. Agricultural biodiversity can contribute to health and nutrition

An estimated 5,500 plant species in the world have been used for human food (Kew, 2015), but today over 50% of our plant-derived calories come from only 3 species: rice, wheat and maize (FAO, 1997).

A diverse diet is the basis of food pyramids and nutrition guidelines around the world. A healthy diet includes multiple food groups, made of diverse foods. The heavy reliance on a narrow diversity of food crops puts future food and nutrition security at risk.  The 2017 Global Nutrition Report states that 1 in 3 people are malnourished and that 88% of countries face a serious burden of either two or three forms of malnutrition. 

Nutrient content varies among species and among varieties within a species.

For example:
Minor millets have protein levels close to that of wheat and are rich in B vitamins, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc. Yet they account for less than 1% of the food grains produced in the world (FAO, 1995). Millets are resilient plants that require little water and are mostly grown in marginal areas where major cereals would fail.

Millet typesProtein Fat    Calcium    Iron
Common millet12.5 g3.5g8 mg2.9 mg
Finger millet7.7 g1.5 g350 mg3.9 mg
Kodo millet9.8 g3.6 g35 mg107 mg
Wheat (average)11.6 g2.0 g30 mg3.5 mg

Table source: FAO 1995: Hulse, Laing and Pearson. 1980: U.S. National Research Council/NAS. 1982: USDA/HNIS.