Securing the world’s crop diversity is a global concern and a prerequisite for future food and nutrition security. Only by safeguarding crop diversity in perpetuity, and making it available for use by researchers, plant breeders and farmers, can we adapt agriculture to the climate crisis, reduce environmental degradation, improve livelihoods, and feed everyone adequately.
Plant breeders and scientists use crop diversity to develop new, more resilient and productive varieties that consumers want to eat, that are nutritious and tasty, and that are adapted to local preferences, environments and challenges.
The importance of the conservation and use of crop diversity is recognized in both international law and policy, as well as in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Crop diversity is essential for several reasons that are crucial to the sustainability and resilience of agriculture and food systems. Here are some key reasons why we need crop diversity:
1. Genetic Resilience: Different crop varieties possess diverse genetic traits that make them better equipped to withstand various environmental challenges, such as pests, diseases, droughts, floods, and temperature fluctuations. In the face of changing climatic conditions, having a wide range of crops ensures that some varieties will survive and continue to produce food.
2. Food Security: Relying heavily on a limited number of high-yielding crop varieties can be risky. If a disease or pest targets that specific variety or if a climatic event adversely affects it, it could lead to a significant reduction in food production. Crop diversity acts as an insurance policy, ensuring that even if one crop fails, there are alternative options available for sustenance.
3. Nutritional Diversity: Different crops have varying nutritional profiles, providing a range of essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. A diverse diet is important for human health and can help prevent malnutrition and diet-related diseases.
4. Preserving Traditional Knowledge: Crop diversity is closely tied to traditional knowledge and practices of local communities. Preserving diverse crops ensures that traditional agricultural practices and knowledge are not lost, contributing to cultural heritage and identity.
5. Adaptation to Climate Change: Climate change is already impacting agriculture, causing shifts in growing seasons and weather patterns. Crop diversity enables farmers to adapt to these changes by planting crops that are better suited to the new conditions.
6. Biodiversity Conservation: Maintaining a wide range of crop varieties contributes to overall biodiversity conservation. Many crop species have wild relatives that play essential roles in ecosystems and can be valuable genetic resources for future crop breeding efforts.
7. Economic Stability: Crop diversity can offer economic stability to farmers by providing options to grow different crops and access diverse markets. It reduces their dependence on a single crop, which can be subject to price fluctuations and market volatilities.
8. Sustainable Agriculture: A diverse crop system can promote sustainable farming practices such as crop rotation, intercropping, and agroforestry, which help maintain soil fertility, reduce the need for chemical inputs, and minimize environmental degradation.
9. Crop Improvement and Innovation: Plant breeders and researchers rely on crop diversity to develop new and improved crop varieties. Genetic resources from diverse crops can be used to enhance traits like disease resistance, drought tolerance, and yield potential.
Simply put, crop diversity is crucial for a strong and sustainable farming system. It helps us feed the increasing world population and deal with environmental issues while also preserving our cultural and biological heritage.