A new index developed by Bioversity International aims to build better, more resilient food systems and improve diets. By tracking how sustainably countries use their agricultural biodiversity—or agrobiodiversity—the Agrobiodiversity Index supports actors within food systems to make better decisions to achieve sustainability and resilience.
The index refers to a subset of biodiversity which includes plants, animals, and micro-organisms directly or indirectly involved in food production and agriculture; ecosystems supporting food production and local farming practices and knowledge also qualify as agrobiodiversity.
Alarming losses of biodiversity and grim climate change predictions weaken the resilience of food systems which by 2050 will need to feed a rising population. Yet the world continues to tap into a small pool of narrowing resources: according to the report, fewer than 200 of the 6,000 plant species cultivated for food play a major role in food production globally and within regions The report also notes only nine of those provide 66 percent of the world’s crop production—on top of that, 26 percent of livestock species face extinction and almost a third of fish stocks suffer from overfishing.
“The way food is produced and consumed today is hurting both people and the planet,” says Juan Lucas Restrepo, Director General of Bioversity International. “Food systems must be re-conceived to prioritize more diverse and nutritious foods by mainstreaming biodiversity. Doing so also helps mitigate the risk of extinction of one million of the eight million estimated species on the planet this century.”
Based on data about diversity in diets, markets, production, and genetic resources, the index captures the current level and future trends of biodiversity within food systems, which can indicate how well the world conserves, uses, and consumes agrobiodiversity. Countries’ performances, as summarized in the report, can indicate their vulnerability to poverty traps, biodiversity losses, climate change, pests and diseases, malnutrition, and land degradation. ”We hope that the insights generated through the Agrobiodiversity Index will help countries identify their strengths and areas for improvement so as to come up with tailored solutions,” says Restrepo.
Researchers analyzed and scored 10 countries based on their current level of agrobiodiversity across diets, food production, and genetic resources, as well as their commitments and actions to boost agricultural biodiversity. They found sample countries have high agrobiodiversity levels, but lag behind when committing to use sustainably and preserve that variety.
Yet having the highest levels of diversity doesn’t make countries the most committed to using agrobiodiversity more in the future. While Italy and Australia’s were first and third for their agrobiodiversity, they scored lowest for action taking and commitments. Instead, India, Kenya, and South Africa were leading action takers, although India and South Africa had some of the lowest levels of agrobiodiversity across the sample. India and Peru’s conservation plans made them the biggest improvers.
Higher income countries like Italy and Australia ranked best for how they currently use agrobiodiversity for better nutrition, while Ethiopia, Kenya and India scored the lowest. But industrialized nations dominated by monocultures had the lowest diversity within sustainable production systems, unlike China―having highly varied species per area unit―and Peru, where agroforestry is a popular practice, who came on top.
The index will not only help countries understand agricultural and food risks, but also craft policies to improve biodiversity for a more certain future. “Increasing biodiversity in our food systems gives farmers more options to deal with risks of crop failure, declining soil fertility or increasingly variable weather,” said Restrepo. “Boosting agrobiodiversity in food systems from production to consumption is a way to connect the dots in the food landscape. A more agrobiodiverse system could also help millions of farmers to escape the poverty trap they have fallen into as they have adopted monoculture and left behind more biodiverse and rich systems.”