Biological diversity in agriculture
Most poor people live in rural areas and are dependent on agricultural and forest resources, and for them the diversity of these resources is therefore a key factor. Diversity in agriculture is one of the most valuable resources managed by farmers. Food plants are found in many specific varieties. These allow the plants to adapt to various climatic and agricultural regimes, provide us with a diversity of tastes and foodstuffs, and also help us meet the demands of the market. Biological diversity is the basis of future food security. Different varieties of a plant have different properties, and by preserving a diversity of varieties we increase the probability that we will have some at hand that are able to tolerate changed cultivation conditions. Some plants have special resistance to pests and diseases, while others tolerate poor soil, drought or flooding.
The genes and gene combinations that encode this diversity are called genetic resources. These resources maintain today’s food production and support the livelihood of farmers around the world. But we also need these resources to meet the future with. Farmers need constant access to new plant varieties in order to adapt to agricultural and climatic change and respond to new needs and desires on the market. This demands breeding and seed selection, which are only possible as long as a genetic seed bank is maintained and made accessible.
Sustainable agriculture and preservation of biological diversity are closely related factors. Preservation, use and further development of biological diversity in agriculture are a precondition for managing a local and needs-adapted agriculture.
The Development Fund supports biological diversity in our programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Disappearance of biological diversity
As much as 75 percent of the plant genetic diversity in agriculture was lost during the last 50 years of the 20th century. Close to half of the genetic variation among important domesticated animal species has also disappeared. When the genetic diversity of important foodplants and domesticates disappears, farmers also lose the opportunity to conduct an agriculture adapted to local conditions. In a small country such as Laos, for example, farmers grow several thousand varieties of rice in their fields. Each variety has a unique genetic composition, which may give:
- Different taste, smell and color
- Resistance to various diseases and pests
- Adaptation to various geographical conditions
- Adaptation to changes in climatic conditions
It is insufficient to store genetic resources in gene banks. Only by making use of the diversity can we maintain a continuous evolution of genetic material. Biological diversity is a result of 12,000 years of practical experience, during which farmers have selected and refined varieties of plants and domesticated animal species. Today, this diversity is severely threatened. In many places climatic changes brought about by human activity amplify this effect, since reduced biodiversity curtails the capacity of farmers to adapt to climate change.