Measuring diversity from farm to fork: a new
Why measure Mediterranean agrobiodiversity?
What foods come to mind when you think of “The Mediterranean diet”? For most people, the term conjures up strong associations with fresh, minimally processed ingredients – olive oil, fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, followed by fish and animal products – together making up a form local food production and consumption that has societal, economic and cultural benefits. Encompassing countries from Italy to Lebanon and Morocco to Greece, can this diet serve as a model for a more nutritious and environmentally friendly diet? food systems?
In a new reportresearchers examined 10 Mediterranean countries to clarify an important but often overlooked factor: the status of agrobiodiversity (plants, animals and micro-organisms) on farms, markets and on plates. By using the Agrobiodiversity index, a tool developed by the Bioversity International Alliance and CIAT, the report identified risks (such as endangered species), but also opportunities (alternative sources of income, climate-smart crops and nutritious food options).
The implications of the report: diets are only part of our food system
The good news is that all the Mediterranean countries assessed show above-average rates conservation agrobiodiversity, reflecting both the natural wealth of the region in cultivated and wild plants, as well as the efforts to protect them. However, although some countries (Lebanon, Italy, France and Spain) show particularly high levels of diversity in consumptionthe overall Mediterranean score is not higher than the world average. Production the scores were even lower, significantly below the world average.
What does this discrepancy suggest? Botanical gardens, gene banks and nature reserves can safeguard agrobiodiversity and diets can include a variety of foods (including imported products); but, at present, Mediterranean production landscapes are largely dominated by a single or a handful of crops, with only a very small share of natural vegetation (agricultural systems and livelihoods at increased risk pest and disease outbreaks, soil degradation and unstable yields – and these risks are set to increase with climate change.
As the report’s authors point out, focusing on food alone will not cover all parts of the food system. Instead, actions and commitments must be made to dominant agrobiodiversity – in other words, to ensure that various species are integrated across the entire production-consumption spectrum.
Filling the gaps: countries must increase their commitments to biodiversity
Countries with the highest agrobiodiversity scores recorded by the report have already taken shares at integrate agrobiodiversity into their food systems – through policies, food guidelines, investments in organic farming, etc. The additional actions needed depend on the current state of agrobiodiversity: countries with lower scores should prioritize immediate conservation efforts to halt the ongoing loss of diversity, while countries with higher scores can focus on increasing landscape complexity (planting more types of crops or integrating natural habitat into agricultural land, for example with hedgerows and woodlots). Other actions include better monitoring of agricultural practices such as intercropping and agroforestry, and improving farmers’ access to various seeds.
For these actions to succeed, stronger national commitments to agrobiodiversity are needed. Currently, countries’ efforts to achieve the global targets set by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity are insufficient, missing the links between safeguarding genetic diversity and meeting human needs such as nutrition and livelihoods. Countries currently have the opportunity to improve this by revising their National Action Plans in the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework.
How might this translate to farm, market and plate? An example: commitments for sustainable food supply in markets (such as sourcing policies or incentives to sell diverse locally produced foods) more profitable to grow different crops. By stimulating on-farm diversification, this could yield benefits such as healthy soils, increased micronutrients in diets, more pollinators and additional income for farmers.
The bottom line is that, like many other regions of the world, the Mediterranean still has progress to make to guarantee the status of its natural wealth of agrobiodiversity. Greater awareness of the benefits of biodiversity, combined with continued efforts to diversify landscapes, could ensure that the region’s food systems become more resilient in years to come.
Learn more about the Agrobiodiversity Index / Mediterranean Report
To read the full report, click on here.
A press summary with key messages and takeaways is also available for download and use by interested parties here.
To learn more about the scientific basis of the Agrobiodiversity Index, read This article.
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