Jul 21, 2019 | Updated: 08:54 AM EDT

Global Farming Trends Threaten Food Security, Study Says

Jul 13, 2019 07:32 AM EDT

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Global Farming Trends Threaten Food Security, Study Says
(Photo : Martin Husemann)

The increased risk of food security is what a team of researchers with the help from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) writes in the journal Global Change Biology. In recent decades, the food on our table like coffee, citrus fruits, and avocado have become more diverse. Global agriculture, however, does not reflect this trend. All over the world, monocultures are increasing, taking up more land than ever. At the same time, many of the crops being grown rely on pollination by insects and other animals. The researchers examined global developments in agriculture over the past 50 years for the study.

For the cultivation of field crops between 1961 and 2016, the scientists analyzed data from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The evaluation of the researchers has revealed that not only is more and more land being used for agriculture worldwide, but the diversity of the crops being grown also has declined. 16 of the 20 fastest growing plants, however, require pollination by insects or other animals.

One of the authors of the new study, Professor Robert Paxton, a biologist at MLU, said that just a few months ago, the World Biodiversity Council IPBES revealed to the world that up to one million animal and plant species are being threatened with extinction, including many pollinators. Notably, this situation affects bees; honeybees are increasingly under threat by pathogens and pesticides, and populations of wild bees have been on the decline around the world for decades.

It could mean that fewer pollinators yields are much lower or even that harvest fails. However, risks are not spread equally across the world. The team used the FAO data to create a map showing the geographical risk of crop failure.

The leader of the study, Professor Marcelo Aizen of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Research CONICET in Argentina, said that emerging and developing countries in South America, Africa, and Asia are most affected. He noted further that this case is not surprising because it is precisely in these regions where vast monocultures are grown for the global market. Several countries in South American produce soy and then export to Europe as cattle feed. Aizen explained that soy production has increased by around 30 percent per decade globally. This is problematic since various natural and semi-natural habitats, including tropical and subtropical forests and meadows have been destroyed for soy fields.

The team advocate for a trend reversal, that is, care should be taken to diversify agriculture worldwide and make it more ecological. For example, this means that the farm in particularly susceptible countries should grow a diversity of crops. Also, farmers all over the world would need to make the areas under cultivation more natural by planting strips of flower or hedgerows next to their fields and by providing nesting habitats on field margins. Consequently, it would ensure that there are adequate habitats for insects, which are essential for sustainable and productive farming.

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