Biodiversity’s role in future agriculture

Published Tuesday, 4th June 2019 in Research news

The study illustrates the importance of interactions between many forms of biodiversity in supporting food production
The study illustrates the importance of interactions between many forms of biodiversity in supporting food production

Developing demand for new foods is key to encouraging more diverse and sustainable production in global agriculture.

This is according to a thematic study involving Scotland-based scientists following a landmark biodiversity report by the Food and Agriculture Organization.

The United Nations body’s report – The State of the World’s Biodiversity – garnered views from across the globe, with researchers from Scotland’s Rural College among those commissioned to write thematic studies to underlie its findings.

Thematic study co-ordinator Dr Ian Dawson, who works for SRUC in Edinburgh and World Agroforestry in Kenya, said: “In our study we aimed to quantify the roles of biodiversity in supporting food production by looking at crop, livestock and aquaculture sectors, although the best data is connected with crop production and so we focus here.”

The study illustrates the importance of interactions between crops and pollinators, trees, soil micro-organisms, livestock and aquatic animals – all forms of biodiversity – in supporting food production.

It also explores trends in food systems and how these affect the opportunities for biodiversity to play a more important role in future food production.

Opportunities come, for example, through breeding crops for more positive crop–crop interactions, by introducing more legume crops into production systems, by introducing pollinator populations into production landscapes and through implementing agronomic practices that support beneficial soil microbe populations. 

For livestock production, breed and crop feedstock diversification are essential, and for aquatic production there needs to be a diversification of crop and animal-based feed resources.

However, Dr Dawson said that biodiversity-based models that support more sustainable global food production are no good if farmers don’t profit from adopting them, meaning the labour and adoption costs of new approaches also need to be considered.

He added: “A major difficulty in implementing change with farmers is that new biodiversity-based approaches to support food production are often relatively knowledge-intensive.

“Close collaboration between farmers, local communities and public and private extension services is therefore required in the building of capacity to educate producers and bring about positive change. This applies not only in the UK, but globally.

“Focusing on developing demand for new foods is an important component in encouraging more diverse and sustainable production. Work in the demand area may ultimately be more important for driving adoption of new production practices than the more efficient production of a new food, although clearly both are needed.”

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