Many Mediterranean countries are at risk of depleting one of the planet’s biodiversity hotspots, according to a new report.
The Agrobiodiversity Index report revealed that the current approach to industrial agriculture coupled with climate change is harming the environment and food diversity in the Mediterranean basin.
The loss of diversity in these regions can potentially mean the loss of a wealth of genetic resources for food and agriculture.
Extensive monocultures and outdated agricultural practices are the drivers of current depletion risks.
“What we have found is that the diversity of Mediterranean food markets is above the global average, while the diversity of production systems is well below potential,” said Sarah Jones, researcher at the Alliance of Biodiversity International and International Center for Tropical Agriculture and lead author. of the latest report, Olive Oil Times said.
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“This means that many farms produce the same crops, such as grapes, olives, corn, sunflowers, and there is a lack of natural infrastructure in and around farmland, things like hedgerows, woods, forest remnants and wetlands,” she added.
The aim of the authors of the report was to analyze the state of plants, animals, microorganisms, soils and agriculture in 10 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
The report analyzes the state of agrobiodiversity, examining food consumption, production and conservation of genetic resources. She also investigated the policies put in place by Algeria, Egypt, France, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Spain, Syria and Tunisia.
According to the researchers, the current approach comes from half a century of growing support for intensive farming.
“Where field sizes have increased as hedgerows are cleared to facilitate the use of large machinery, seed companies have encouraged farmers to grow high-yielding varieties that often require large amounts of water and fertilizer. fertilizer and lack nutritional value,” Jones said. “Food value chains have favored farms that can supply large quantities of a single product.
“The problem is that these intensive agricultural systems are causing global and local biodiversity loss, water pollution and land degradation,” she added. “At the same time, food systems do not allow everyone, everywhere to have access to a nutritious and balanced diet.
According to the authors, maintaining and promoting diversity in food systems is essential to any strategy to make food systems sustainable.
While agrobiodiversity is vital to the planet, places like the Mediterranean are inherently richer in biodiversity, affecting the region’s natural food diversity.
The report notes that between 15,000 and 25,000 species thrive in the Mediterranean basin, 60% of which are unique to the region. The basin is also considered a center of biodiversity for many food crops.
“The Mediterranean is one such region, known as the Vavilov Centers of Diversity, and is the source of many food crops, including asparagus, barley, chestnuts, leeks, olives and rapeseed,” Jones said. “The loss of diversity in these regions can potentially mean the loss of a wealth of genetic resources for food and agriculture, limiting our options for adapting to future climate, pests and diseases, and making food less colorful. , less nutritious, less interesting.
“This last part may seem trivial, but in the Mediterranean, enjoying cooking, eating and talking about food is an integral part of everyday life, so losing dietary diversity also means we risk losing a dynamic part of our culture,” she added. .
Climate change is impacting the Mediterranean agricultural world, which is reacting to water shortages and rising temperatures by choosing crop varieties and livestock breeds that are better adapted to the new climate.
“Many different interventions will be needed to help our food systems adapt to climate change, but making better decisions about what to grow is fundamental,” Jones said. “This applies to which plants will be harvested and which will not, but it can support production in other ways within farms and across entire landscapes.
“For example, mulching and increasing soil organic matter is a key strategy for saving water and improving soil health, but it’s bad for carbon emissions if organic matter has to be transported from away,” she added.
“Growing plants to use as mulch, or sourcing from a nearby farmer, is a much better strategy and good for the local economy,” Jones continued. “This could include a mix of herbs and flowers that have the co-benefit of helping support pollinators and biological pest control.
The researchers found that all the countries analyzed have adopted policies to preserve agrobiodiversity. Jones cited plans to increase the complexity of the agricultural landscape in Algeria, Lebanon and Italy and conservation strategies for crop wild relatives in Morocco and Spain.
“Countries need to do more, that is provide farmers with grants, loans, training and insurance, to convert and maintain diversified and chemical-free agriculture,” she said. “It’s economically difficult for farmers to break away from intensive farming systems to practice more sustainable alternatives, and government support really helps.
Helpful policies could include creating markets for local, underutilized and diverse foods, for example, through government procurement programs in ministries and school canteens and through food tax reductions from locally sourced and sustainably produced foods.
“These kinds of policies need to happen to bring about real change in our food systems, and change is needed everywhere, regardless of country location or natural levels of agrobiodiversity, because simplified, intensive agricultural production is not just not sustainable on any level,” Jones said.
The report provides recommendations on practices and policies that countries could strengthen or implement to integrate agrobiodiversity into their food systems.
“[It] will be used to stimulate country-level discussions on policy actions needed to better integrate agrobiodiversity into the food system and increase adherence to the Mediterranean diet,” Jones said.
“Apart from the production aspect, we must also ensure that we keep in gene banks and botanic gardens all the different varieties that could be useful in the future because they are better adapted to future climates or more resistant to new pests and diseases that appear as climates change,” she concluded.