Sustainable Food Guide
|Environmental Practice at Work © 2005|
Everywhere in food and agriculture, from the supermarket shelves to the word production line, there are fewer varieties of plants and animlas.
Biodiversity - or biological diversity - is the term given to the variety of life on Earth and the natural patterns it forms. The loss of diversity may limit future generations wishing to have as much genetic material as possible - a crucial element in Brundtland definition of sustianable development. Biodiversity forms the web of life of which we are an integral part and upon which we so fully depend.
Worldwide, most of the major export crops are now grown on the other side of the world from with they originated. Coffee went from Ethiopia to Brazil and Vietnam. Cocoa started life in Amazon basin and is now mainly exported from West Africa. Wheat originated in Middle East with America now its is main exporter. And on each of these journies variability was lost on the way. Most of S American coffee crop comes from four plants only.
And on arrival, natural diverse vegetation is often removed. Rainforests are being chopped down at a rate of 10,000 sq miles (= size of Belgium) a year to make way for soya in Brazil - now exceeding that chopped down for beef. Rape of the Rainforest
Apples originated in the Middle East more than 4000 years ago; fruit and vines have been grown in the UK since the Roman occupation. The National Fruit Collection (Brogdale) houses 4000 varieties, yet only about a third sold in supermarkets are grown in UK, selling eight varieties. Apple Facts
It is not only the limited number of varieties, but also the loss of variety in those crops. Studies of the longest running ecological experiment in the world - the Park Grass plots at Rothamsted, showed that there was a decline in species with regular fertilisation: "The addition of phosphorus reduced species (of plants) richness, and application of potassium along with phosphorus reduced species richness further, but the biggest negative effects were when nitrogen and phosphorus were applied together".
Fertilsers are becoming the enemy of biodiversity, because they encourage a few species who respond to the added nutrients, and putting off those that dont like the more acidic conditions.