WASHINGTON — “We should celebrate biodiversity every day, not just on May 22,” comments Edie Mukiibi, Vice- President of Slow Food. “Why? Because biodiversity is what enables agricultural systems to resist and overcome environmental shocks, pandemics and the climate crisis. It provides essential ecosystem services, such as pollination and soil fertility. It makes it possible to produce food with a lower impact on non-renewable resources and fewer external inputs, like pesticides. It is essential for our survival.”
For more than 20 years now, Slow Food has worked on the biodiversity that underpins agriculture and food production: plant species and varieties, animal breeds, beneficial insects, microorganisms, ecosystems, knowledge and culture. It was one of the first organizations to focus attention on domestic biodiversity (cultivated varieties and farmed species) and was the first anywhere to consider processing techniques and processed products (such as breads and cheeses) as an integral part of our biodiversity heritage. “Now more than ever, if we want to ensure good, clean and fair food for all, it is necessary to start from biodiversity and invert a production model that is continuing to generate environmental and social disasters and undermining the foundations of food security both for the present generations and those of the future,” continues Mukiibi.
On the occasion of the International Day for Biological Diversity, Slow Food presents its position paper If biodiversity is alive, so is the planet, which stresses the main challenges our planet faces and presents possible solutions, starting with agroecological practices. Agroecology allows us to preserve and regenerate soil fertility and drastically reduce the use of synthetic chemicals in agriculture. This is especially relevant today when we also celebrate World Bee Day: 40% of agricultural production depends on pollinators and a great deal of this work is carried out by insects: bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, beetles, ants and so on. Europe is losing a third of its bee and butterfly populations because of pesticides, monocultures, overbuilding, climate change and the transport of exotic species. “As we demand in the European Citizens’ Initiative Save bees and farmers, habitats must be restored and agricultural areas must become a vector of biodiversity recovery. Farmers must be supported in this necessary transition away from high pesticides use and towards agroecology, which is based on local biodiversity,” adds Marta Messa, Director of Slow Food Europe.
As far as our food is concerned, we are surrounded by biodiversity even if we do not see it: microorganisms in the soil guarantee its fertility, while fermented food such as bread, chocolate, cheese, wine and beer are all products of microbial biodiversity. Fermentation is caused by yeast, fungi and bacteria that are found in the soil, in pastures and in production environments. It raises the nutrient content of foods, enriches them with probiotic microbial flora, and gives them unique sensory characteristics. To protect microbial biodiversity, Slow Food promotes natural products: cheeses without industrial enzymes, naturally leavened bread, additive- and preservative-free charcuterie, and wines with native yeasts.
“We are facing a pandemic caused by a virus which has uprooted our lives. This should make us stop and think about the importance of the microscopic organisms at the base of biodiversity,” explains Serena Milano, Secretary general of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity. The destruction of natural habitats and the consequent loss of biodiversity create conditions conducive to the spread of zoonotic diseases and increase the risk of epidemics as a result of spillover (the transmission of viruses from wild to domesticated species and humans).
It doesn’t stop there: biodiversity contributes to a healthy, diversified diet in a variety of ways. Local plant varieties and animal breeds — as well as wild species — often have a higher nutrient content than corresponding commercial and cultivated versions. The foods and eating styles that are good for human health are also the ones that have a lower impact on the planet’s environment.
“We should support the local communities who have selected, preserved and reproduced seeds, improving the yield, taste and nutritional value of a large number of vegetables, legumes and cereals”, adds Milano. Unfortunately 75% of the crop varieties that were grown at the start of the 20th century have now been lost and three species–corn, rice, wheat–supply 60% of the world’s food energy. Two examples: there are 5000 local potato varieties around the world, but the global market is dominated by 4 commercial varieties; the same goes for bananas, where just one variety dominates the global market despite there being more than 500 available.
It’s the same story with animal breeds: 26% of the 8803 breeds cataloged across the world are at risk of extinction and the status of 67% of them is unknown. Industry relies on just a few commercial breeds, selected for their milk and/or meat yields, intensively farmed without access to open spaces, treated with antibiotics, raised on industrial feed and transported over long distances. As a result of this model, the zootechnics sector is responsible for 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions. To address the loss of animal biodiversity, a livestock farming model based on diversity is necessary, one where the adaptability of local breeds, their ties with the local areas and pastures is properly valued.
“We are living through a difficult moment on a global level and indigenous peoples are more vulnerable than ever,” comments Dali Nolasco Cruz, Indigenous Nahua and Coordinator of the Terra Madre Indigenous Network for Latin America and the Caribbean. “There is a historic debt owed to our peoples. We are the guardians of 80% of the world’s biodiversity. We, the indigenous peoples of the world, reaffirm our commitment to fight for our rights, for the defense of our lands and for our food sovereignty. We are calling to action all the indigenous peoples of the world: the youth, the women, children and men, to local, national and international institutions, so that together we can write the future of food and design the world we want.”
Serena Milano concludes: “Biodiversity is all around us, and protecting it through agroecology is the only solution we have to preserve local communities, local food and the planet. This is the message Slow Food will bring to the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 15) in October, where a new Global Framework for Biodiversity post-2020 will be adopted.”
Click here to read the full version of the document If biodiversity is alive, so is the planet.
Click here to read the summary of the document If biodiversity is alive, so is the planet.
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