Compared to 50 years ago, fewer crop species are feeding the world. Why does that matter? Well, diminished crop diversity combined with the increased dependence on certain key crops leaves the global population more susceptible to crop failure- which is very bad news. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the US (PNAS) recently released a study regarding this issue and its relevance to food security.
The study notes that over the past 50 years, diets around the world that used to vary from region to region have now conformed to what is known as a “globalized diet,” in which diets across all countries and regions are becoming increasingly more similar, comprising predominantly of key crops such as wheat, rice, potatoes, and sugar. As this diet becomes more common, these crops are planted at a greater scale to supply the ever-increasing demand, but as agricultural land is limited, this increase in key crops subsequently results in the removal of a variety of lesser demanded crops.
For example, wheat is now a key food in more than 97% of countries listed in UN data, and soybeans, which in the past were of relatively minimal importance, have now exploded and are now considered a significant crop in 75% of nations, increasing the amount consumed by over 264% in just a 50 years period.
While the widespread growth of these few key crops has helped with global hunger, the lack of diversity also leaves the agriculture more vulnerable to major threats such as droughts, insects, and diseases. And given the increasing global dependence on such crops, any threat would prove to be catastrophic for society.
In conclusion, as crop diversity has decreased over 75% in the last century, the only way to ensure the safety and longevity of our global food system is to diversify our agriculture.
Learn more about the PNAS study here: