Agriculture: 75% of the genetic food has gone

BREAKING NEWS: Three-quarters of the genetic diversity in agriculture have disappeared during the twentieth century, according to a study released Sept. 7 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The FAO experts draw a parallel between the decline of the indigenous tribes living space, globalization and the decline of biodiversity of food.

Wheat harvest | Region of Cusco, Peru | Kazuyoshi Nomachi / Corbis


The context:
Organic farming emphasizes product quality and environmental friendliness. It is grown on 30.5 million hectares, or 0.7% of the global agricultural area. The FAO studies point out that in the past 10 000 species were grown to feed the world but now, ” only 150 plants feed the majority of mankind . ” By themselves, rice, wheat, corn and potatoes represent 60% of energy from plants.
The challenge:
The FAO study highlights the progressive limitation of agricultural genetic diversity worldwide, of which it recalls the original wealth:
“The remote tribes of denser tropical forests and deserts of ice have a rich range of safe and nutritious food – some with extraordinary properties – that our wealthy societies can only envy,” it said in conclusion of the book Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems, published by FAO, in collaboration with the CINE (Centre for Indigenous People’s Nutrition and Environment) from McGill University.
The other conclusion of FAO experts is more disturbing: “As wild habitats recede under economic pressures and globalization standardizes lifestyles, these native foods are disappearing at high speed – and thus, the food that ensured good health. ”
– A standardized diet
The report cites several examples of ecosystems that are particularly rich in terms of genetic diversity. In the Thai village of Sanephong, Karen community has 387 crops for its 661 residents.
In contrast, the study observed the increasing trend of Western countries to focus their power on four major crops: wheat, rice, corn and soybeans (raw or transformed). This limitation is accompanied by a loss of genetic diversity, “three quarters of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops have disappeared in the last century,” FAO said.

– The negative health consequences
Barbara Burlingame, FAO expert in evaluation and nutritional requirements states that “the alienation of traditional food sources in favor of all prepared foods business is often accompanied by an increase in disordered eating such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. ”
In fact, the study shows that obesity is almost non-existed in Awajun (Peru), where 93% of their energy needs are satisfied while the people of Mand ( a Jat clan from Punjab, India ) covers only 27% of these needs, suffers from several problems health.
The commitment of the international community:
Based on the observation that no country is self-sufficient in energy resources, FAO has established an International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. 127 countries have already ratified the treaty . To promote biodiversity and sustainable agriculture, and to ensure their fair and equitable sharing, the treaty allowed the establishment of a gene bank consisting of 64 global food crops.
In June, Tunis, and eleven developing countries * were rewarded for for their conservation projects of genes and genetic resources which are vital to feed the world. FAO hopes to help indigenous people to find new markets for their food production and their medicinal plants.

* Egypt, Kenya, Costa Rica, India, Peru, Senegal, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Cuba, Tanzania, Morocco.

Abdullah Al Abbadi

Source: FAO Sept. 7 . 2011

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