Diversity is good

  • Conservation of agrobiodiversity is a step forward towards ensuring food security

Oct 9, 2018-

Situated in the lap of the Himalayas, Nepal is blessed with beauty and bountiful biological resources that support the economy and livelihoods. Being an agricultural country, nearly 66 percent of the people depend on agriculture to sustain themselves. Nepali smallholder farmers are largely poor with limited access to external resources. They are highly vulnerable to the unpredictability and intensity of climate change. In such a state, ‘one flame of hope’ for the marginalised people to support themselves by combating climate change is agrobiodiversity.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines agrobiodiversity in this way: “The variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms that are used directly or indirectly for food and agriculture, including crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries. It comprises the diversity of genetic resources (varieties, breeds) and species used for food, fodder, fibre, fuel and pharmaceuticals. It also includes the diversity of non-harvested species that support production (soil micro-organisms, predators, pollinators), and those in the wider environment that support agro-ecosystems (agricultural, pastoral, forest and aquatic) as well as the diversity of the agro-ecosystems.” It has developed over millennia, as a result of both natural selection and human intervention.

There are 790 food value plant species in Nepal. Unfortunately, this diversity-rich country’s dependency on foreign germplasm is about 95-100 percent for food and nutrient security. According to the FAO, 75 percent of the world’s food is generated by six animal species and 12 plant species. Among them, rice, wheat and maize account for nearly 60 percent of the proteins and calories required by the human body. But these crops are highly vulnerable to various diseases and pests that might result in food insecurity in Nepal. In such a scenario, if we focus on our local varieties and take the initiative to use them to the fullest, the food insufficiency problem might decrease to some extent.

A study done by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) shows that nearly 25 percent of Nepal’s population lives below the poverty line. It ranks in the 149th place among 187 countries on the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index. Nepal faces many challenges to economic growth, human development and food security. It is recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2015 that left 1.4 million people in need of food assistance.

The world’s population is projected to reach over 9.7 billion by the year 2050. Meeting the needs of this tremendous

population and ensuring that the available food reaches the people who need it is a great challenge to global agriculture. This challenge has to be met by ensuring the availability and sustainability of resources for future generations. At the same time, agriculture needs to confront changes in climate, loss of productive land and competition for available land, and continued migration from rural to urban areas.

In light of the multiple challenges to food security, achieving the greatest diversity within the agriculture system is being increasingly recognised as an important pillar of sustainable development. Nepal covers only 0.1 percent of the global space, but it is the 31st richest country in the world and the 10th richest in Asia with regard to biodiversity. Due to the great variation in the country’s climate and geography, it harbours about 3.2 percent of the global angiosperms and floral diversity and 1.1 percent of the fauna including 5.2 percent of the mammal species and 9.5 percent of the bird species.

A changing climate expressed as increased variability in temperature and precipitation (for example, inundation, heat wave, drought and shift in the rainy season) requires a high adaptive capacity of crops and animal breeds. In the context of the world, 75 percent of the plant species and 30 percent of the livestock breeds are at risk of extinction due to the introduction of high-yielding, genetically more uniform varieties.

In such a situation, biodiversity on different scales is assigned an insurance function as it increases the probability that at least parts of the gene pool will match the changing environmental conditions. Diverse plant and animal varieties are the key to unlocking the door of food security in Nepal, not only for their ability to ward off catastrophic crop failures, but also as a source of raw germplasm that can be utilised by breeders to develop superior varieties with high production quality that can withstand environmental shocks associated with climate change.

Last but not least, if we want to ensure food security in our country, our first and foremost task must be to conserve locally available resources, flora and fauna. Possibly, the conservation of agrobiodiversity will be the cornerstone to ensuring food sufficiency throughout the globe. For this, the government must give due attention to the conservation and sustainable use of the agro-diversity found in Nepal.

Tandon is a student at the Agriculture and Forestry University, Bharatpur

Published: 09-10-2018 08:52

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