Recent research published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has emphasised how biodiversity loss, combined with wider climate impacts, is posing a substantial threat to world food security. In an FAO report published in 2018, State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, further emphasis is placed on the impact of climate variability and extremes on our food systems.

The report, which also assesses the social impacts of food security, notes that the absolute number of undernourished people had increased to an estimated 821 million people in 2017 – 10.9% of the world population. While a number of potential factors are cited as causes for this, adverse climate events in many regions are identified as a key force behind the rise in global hunger. Climate extremes and variability are also highlighted as leading causes of severe food crises globally, exacerbating existing food insecurity and poverty.

In the research carried out by the United Nations, food security and nutrition indicators can be clearly linked with an extreme climatic event, such as severe drought, that critically challenges agriculture and food production. The study notes that for around 36% of the countries that experienced a rise in undernourishment amongst the population, this coincided with the occurrence of severe agricultural drought.

From the research conducted, it is clear that climate variability and extremes are undermining all dimensions of food security. This is particularly acute when considering the additional impact of biodiversity loss, especially in plants.

Occurrence of Plant Extinctions

report published by researchers at Stockholm University and the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew has found that nearly 600 species of plants have been lost worldwide over the last 250 years.

The comprehensive study of plant populations found that 571 species have now become extinct – and at a rate up to 500 times faster than would be expected naturally. The number of extinct plants is twice that of all bird, mammal and amphibian extinctions combined.

Through their extensive research, it has become clear that the biggest plant losses are on islands and in the tropics, and of species that have narrow geographical ranges – location has been shown to be a more important factor than the type of plant. These areas are often rich in plant density and are home to plant species of high ecological value.

The main cause of the vast number of plant extinctions, the authors conclude, is the destruction of natural habitats by human activities. Cutting down forests, particularly rainforests, and converting the land into fields for large-scale farming are having a devastating impact on the environment.

Impact of Biodiversity Loss on Food Security

The FAO report notes that changes in climate are undermining the production of major crops in tropical and temperate regions. Crops such as wheat, rice, and maize, which are staple foodstuffs globally, are becoming increasingly less available. This trend is expected to worsen as global temperatures rise. These three crops are part of a group of nine crops that account for 66% of all crop production by weight globally. Climate extremes are having a significant impact on foodstuffs like these that are heavily relied upon, and as these extremes continue, they will have an increasingly severe impact on human communities.

A continuation in plant extinctions, and in turn a reduction in plant and crop biodiversity, poses a significant threat to world food security and risks exacerbating existing issues such as world hunger and malnutrition.

Find out more

ADAS is able to offer specialist advice and consultancy services to businesses in the food and farming industries. To find out how ADAS can support your business or to understand more about biodiversity loss and food security, please contact Sarah Wynn in our Sustainable Food and Farming Team.