Report: Mediterranean Agricultural Biodiversity at Risk

The Agrobiodiversity Index Report 2021 shows diversity is the key to MedDiet survival in a world increasingly dominated by monocultures and provides recommendations.
Jul. 11, 2022
Paolo DeAndreis

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Many Mediterranean coun­tries are at risk of deplet­ing one of the plan­et’s bio­di­ver­sity hotspots, accord­ing to a new report.

The Agrobiodiversity Index Report found that the cur­rent indus­trial farm­ing approach paired with the chang­ing cli­mate is dam­ag­ing the envi­ron­ment and food diver­sity in the Mediterranean basin.

Losing diver­sity in these regions can poten­tially mean los­ing a wealth of genetic resources for food and agri­cul­ture.- Sarah Jones, report co-author

Extensive mono­cul­tures and out­dated farm­ing prac­tices are dri­vers of the cur­rent deple­tion risks.

What we found is that diver­sity in Mediterranean food mar­kets is higher than the global aver­age, while indeed the diver­sity in pro­duc­tion sys­tems is well below poten­tial,” Sarah Jones, a researcher at the Alliance of Biodiversity International and International Center for Tropical Agriculture and lead author of the lat­est report, told Olive Oil Times.

See Also:World Bank Investing Nearly €30B to Improve Global Food Security

This means that many farms are pro­duc­ing the same crops, like grapes, olives, maize, sun­flow­ers, and that there is a lack of nat­ural infra­struc­tures in and around farm­land, things like hedgerows, wood­lots, for­est rem­nants and wet­lands,” she added.

The goal of the report’s authors was to ana­lyze the sta­tus of plants, ani­mals, microor­gan­isms, soil and agri­cul­ture in 10 coun­tries bor­der­ing the Mediterranean Sea.

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The report ana­lyzes the state of agro­bio­di­ver­sity, look­ing at food con­sump­tion, pro­duc­tion, and genetic resource con­ser­va­tion. It also inves­ti­gated the poli­cies enacted by Algeria, Egypt, France, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Spain, Syria, and Tunisia.

According to the researchers, the cur­rent approach comes from a half-cen­tury of grow­ing sup­port for inten­sive farm­ing.

Where field sizes have increased as hedgerows are cleared to make it eas­ier to use large machin­ery, seed com­pa­nies have encour­aged farm­ers to grow high-yield­ing vari­eties that often demand large quan­ti­ties of water and fer­til­izer and lack nutri­tional value,” Jones said. Food value chains have favored farms that can pro­vide large quan­ti­ties of a sin­gle prod­uct.”

The prob­lem is that these inten­sive agri­cul­tural sys­tems are a root dri­ver of global and local bio­di­ver­sity loss, water pol­lu­tion and soil degra­da­tion,” she added. At the same time, food sys­tems are fail­ing to pro­vide every­one every­where with access to nutri­tious, bal­anced diets.”

According to the authors, main­tain­ing and fos­ter­ing diver­sity in food sys­tems is cru­cial to any strat­egy aimed at mak­ing food sys­tems sus­tain­able.

While agro­bio­di­ver­sity is vital for the planet, loca­tions such as the Mediterranean are inher­ently more bio­di­verse, affect­ing the region’s nat­ural food diver­sity.

The report noted that between 15,000 to 25,000 species thrive in the Mediterranean basin, 60 per­cent of which are unique to the area. The basin is also con­sid­ered a bio­di­ver­sity cen­ter for many cul­ti­vated food crops.

The Mediterranean is one of these areas, known as Vavilov cen­ters of diver­sity, and is the ori­gin of many food crops, includ­ing aspara­gus, bar­ley, chest­nuts, leeks, olives and rape­seed,” Jones said. Losing diver­sity in these regions can poten­tially mean los­ing a wealth of genetic resources for food and agri­cul­ture, lim­it­ing our options for adapt­ing to future cli­mate and pests and dis­eases, and mak­ing food less col­or­ful, less nutri­tious, less inter­est­ing.”

This last part may sound triv­ial, but in the Mediterranean, tak­ing plea­sure in cook­ing, eat­ing, and talk­ing about food is a big part of every­day life, so los­ing food diver­sity also means we risk los­ing a vibrant part of our cul­ture,” she added.

Climate change is impact­ing the Mediterranean agri­cul­tural world, which is react­ing to water short­ages and tem­per­a­ture increases by choos­ing crop vari­eties and live­stock breeds that can fare bet­ter in the new cli­mate.

A lot of 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 the plants that will be har­vested and those that won’t, but that can sup­port pro­duc­tion in other ways within farms and across whole land­scapes.”

For exam­ple, mulching and increas­ing soil organic mate­r­ial is a key water-sav­ing strat­egy and improves soil health, but it is bad for car­bon emis­sions if the organic mate­ri­als have to be trans­ported from far away,” she added.

Growing plants to use as mulch, or sourc­ing this from a nearby farmer, is a much bet­ter strat­egy and good for the local econ­omy,” Jones con­tin­ued. This could include a mix of grasses and flow­ers that have the co-ben­e­fit of help­ing sus­tain pol­li­na­tors and bio­log­i­cal pest con­trols.”

Researchers have found that all coun­tries ana­lyzed have enacted some poli­cies to pre­serve agro­bio­di­ver­sity. Jones cited plans to increase agri­cul­tural land­scape com­plex­ity in Algeria, Lebanon and Italy and con­ser­va­tion strate­gies for crop wild rel­a­tives in Morocco and Spain.

Something coun­tries need to do more of is pro­vide farm­ers with sub­si­dies, loans, train­ing, and insur­ance, to con­vert to, and sus­tain, diver­si­fied, chem­i­cal-free farm­ing,” she said. It is eco­nom­i­cally dif­fi­cult for farm­ers to break away from inten­sive farm­ing sys­tems to prac­tice more sus­tain­able alter­na­tives, and gov­ern­ment sup­port really helps.”

Useful poli­cies might include pro­vid­ing mar­kets for local, under-uti­lized, diverse foods, for exam­ple, through pub­lic pro­cure­ment schemes in min­istries and school cafe­te­rias and through tax reduc­tions on locally sourced foods and foods that are pro­duced in sus­tain­able ways.

These types of poli­cies need to hap­pen to bring about real change in our food sys­tems, and change is needed every­where irre­spec­tive of coun­try loca­tion or nat­ural lev­els of agro­bio­di­ver­sity because sim­pli­fied, inten­sive agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion is sim­ply not sus­tain­able on any level,” Jones said.

The report pro­vides rec­om­men­da­tions on what prac­tices and poli­cies coun­tries could strengthen or imple­ment to main­stream agro­bio­di­ver­sity into their food sys­tems.

“[It] will be used to stim­u­late dis­cus­sions at the coun­try level on the pol­icy actions needed to inte­grate agro­bio­di­ver­sity into the food sys­tem bet­ter and increase adher­ence to the Mediterranean diet,” Jones said.

Apart from the pro­duc­tion side, we also need to make sure we are con­serv­ing in gene banks and botan­i­cal gar­dens all the dif­fer­ent vari­eties that may be use­ful in the future because they are bet­ter adapted to future cli­mates or are more resis­tant to new pests and dis­eases that appear as cli­mates change,” she con­cluded.


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