Why biodiversity is key to global food security


Climate, Energy & Sustainability

Picture of Ann Tutwiler
Ann Tutwiler

Director General of Bioversity International

One of the principal challenges in securing a sustainable future for people and the planet remains the sustainable production of and access to adequate food that is nutritious and safe for our growing population. But to date, despite real commitments towards this goal, over 800 million people are suffering from hunger and two billion lack essential vitamins and minerals, while another two billion people are obese or overweight.

Additionally, the global food system is a major contributor to large environmental footprints including biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions, water shortages, ecosystem pollution and land degradation, which further put at risk future nutritious and safe food production.

Taking a ‘business as usual’ approach will only increase health and environmental costs

These global trends of malnutrition and environmental degradation are aggravated by the increasing uniformity of food systems. Diversity of food supplies is narrowing, with emphasis on a few cereal and oil crops as well as reductions in more nutrient-dense fresh fruits, vegetables, pulses and animal source foods. Traditional non-commodity species and varieties, considered important from nutritional and environmental perspectives, are becoming less available in production landscapes, the marketplace and household diets.

A paradigm shift is needed in the way we approach food production and consumption to ensure sustainable global food security and healthy food systems and diets. Taking a ‘business as usual’ approach will only increase health and environmental costs, and will be exacerbated by climate change impacts. The way forward must acknowledge the strong relationship between production and consumption decisions, and must take an integrated systems approach to promoting sustainability.

Research institutes, like Bioversity International, are producing evidence which shows that agricultural biodiversity has an increasingly critical role in providing healthy diets and sustainable food systems from local to global scales.  To build this evidence, three different but interrelated dimensions of national and global food value chains and local food systems are being considered:

1) Demand – focusing on dietary diversification for improved nutrition and health among low-income consumers, urban and rural;

2) Supply – promoting diversified production systems capitalising on a broad range of agricultural and tree biodiversity;

3) An enabling environment – identifying ways to improve political, legal and institutional frameworks of food systems.

The findings of such research are being used to inform management practices and policy options aimed at scaling out the use of agricultural biodiversity for sustainable global food and nutrition security.

Global trends of malnutrition and environmental degradation are aggravated by the increasing uniformity of food systems

As an example of this approach in practice, Bioversity International with national partners in Brazil have provided evidence of the nutritional value of agricultural biodiversity and its role in promoting healthy diets, strengthening livelihoods and improving overall food security. Using this evidence to inform policy and practice, the Brazilian Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Planning have engaged 32 government agencies in the process of identifying 23 priority actions to reverse biodiversity loss, now embedded in the revision of the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. This policy commitment has resulted in pledges of budgets to protect biodiversity for food and nutrition. It has also resulted in the advancement of scientific knowledge on the nutritional value of 70 native fruit species, now influencing public policies on nutrition, family farming, food security and the sustainable use of biodiversity. Additionally, Brazil is incorporating this knowledge into the implementation of its national programme to promote healthy eating in schools, which also ensures that 30% of the food procurement is from local family farmers.

To expand the evidence for the value of agricultural biodiversity to food and nutrition security, more must be done to create enabling environments more conducive to both the undertaking and subsequent uptake of this research.

We are now on the eve of the launch of the EU’s Standing Committee on Agricultural Research’s 4th foresight exercise, “Sustainable Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in the Bioeconomy – A Challenge for Europe”. We trust that the report explicitly recognises domestic and international food and nutrition insecurity and the sustainability of the current food system as a major challenge to be addressed as a European Union research priority over the next few years. Such recognition will signal the urgency of and importance attached to developing evidence-based solutions for obtaining sustainable global food security and healthy food systems and diets. The rapid rise in global food prices in 2008, and the consequent riots that erupted in over 30 cities worldwide, demonstrated the link between food security and civil stability, national and global security. Getting international and national food system policy frameworks right is in the interest of the global public, and a win-win for Europe. The use and safeguarding of agricultural biodiversity must be at the heart of sound policy making to nourish people and sustain the planet.

Related activities

view all
view all
view all
Track title


Stop playback
Video title


Africa initiative logo