Biodiversity in crisis, FAO report


The first FAO report ‘The State of the world’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture‘ offers new insights into biodiversity and food supply security (so-called ‘food security‘). (1)

The biodiversity that underpins our food systems is disappearing, putting the future of our food, livelihoods, human health and the environment at risk‘ (FAO).

Biodiversity is therefore a crucial resource for ensuring healthy, safe and nutritious food in the appropriate quantities for the world’s people. (2) In a scenario, outlined in the UN reportThe State of the World in 2050, which already shows increasing tensions due to several factors. Climate change and pollution, population growth and accelerated urbanization, surpluses and waste, and overexploitation of natural resources are threatening the survival of plants and animals that feed the supply chains the food systems.

Biodiversity, an ongoing loss

The loss of biodiversity is expressed in its severity by the following numbers:

– More than 6 thousand plant species are still cultivated to produce food, but

– less than 200 plants contribute substantially to food production (world, national and regional), while

– 66 percent of global agricultural production is based on only 9 plant species.

Animal productions global are based on some 40 species, yet meat, milk and eggs are predominantly from only a small group of them, while 26 percent of local livestock breeds are endangered. Nearly one-third of fish stocks are overexploited, 60% reached and/or exceeded the no-return limit.

Local native and many genetic productions that contribute to ecosystems vital to food and agriculture are at risk. That is, that ‘associated biodiversity’ which includes all the plants, animals and organisms (insects, bats, corals, fungi, bacteria) that contribute to soil fertility, pollinate plants, purify air and water, and help fight pests.

Twenty-four percent of about 4 thousand wild food species are disappearing and with them their memories, knowledge and traditions. Bees, butterflies, bats are endangered. Natural habitats such as forests, mangroves, coral reefs and wetlands are in decline.

Climate change
, the first defendant

makes production systems and livelihoods more resilient to shocks and stresses, including those caused by climate change. It is a key resource in efforts to increase food production while limiting negative impacts on the environment’ (FAO report).

Intensive agricultural practices

imposed by markets, conversely, contribute to

climate change

due to the massive use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, as well as over-exploitation of soils and water, to the detriment of natural habitats and associated biodiversity

. Thus, paradoxically weakening the entire agricultural and food production system.

Anthropogenic phenomena that devastate the ecosystem have distinctive declinations across continents, according to the FAO report:

Africa is particularly plagued by overexploitation, hunting and poaching,

– Asia

is devastated by deforestation


Europe and Central Asia are adversely affected by deforestation and intensification of agricultural production, deforestation and pest impacts,

Latin America and the Caribbean suffer from diseases and invasive species. Climate change prevails over associated biodiversity especially in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

Food security

at risk

Biodiversity is critical for safeguarding global food security, underpins healthy and nutritious diets, and strengthens rural livelihoods and the resilience of people and communities‘, says José Graziano da Silva, FAO director-general. ‘We need to use biodiversity sustainably so that we can better meet the growing challenges of climate change and produce food without harming our environment’.

Less biodiversity means exposing plants and animals to greater vulnerability to pests and diseases. Element, which together with our dependence on fewer and fewer species to feed us, is putting our already fragile food security on the brink of collapse’.

The positive news is represented by the growing awareness of the problem among FAO member states. Indeed, 80 percent of the 91 countries that provided information for the report report report that they have embarked on pathways toward biodiversity-friendly practices such as organic farming, sustainable soil management,agro-ecological, the most sustainable approach to fishing. In words, at least.

Sustainable development,Italy is still lagging behind

The ecological and social crisis in place is being reported by every international agency, as well as by authorities charged with assessing the risks associated with soil desertification and natural resource depletion. The system is close to collapse, and the albeit growing spread of organic farming, even in Europe

and in Italy

, is not sufficient to compensate for the damage to the environment caused by conventional agriculture


Italy – like other member countries of the United Nations – has made its commitments to achieve the ‘Sustainable Development Goals‘ (SDGs) set forth in Agenda 2030, which include measures to protect biodiversity. However, the analysis of the measures included in the 2019 budget law, conducted by the Italian Alliance for Sustainable Development (Asvis), shows signs of deterioration precisely on the development goals concerning food and sustainable agriculture. (3)

Goal 2, end hunger. That is, to achieve ‘foodsecurity’ (security of food supply), improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture that respects ecosystems,

Objective 15, Life on Earth. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of the Earth’s ecosystem. Managing forests and woodlands sustainably, countering desertification, halting and rolling back land degradation, and halting the loss of ecological diversity.

The only funding

provided are those to be earmarked for replanting olive trees eradicated under the (widely debated) justification of the bacterium

Xylella fastidiosa

. Reporting instead ‘The absence of other direct interventions to protect biodiversity‘. Asvis points out that ‘for Goal 15, the Budget Law does not include any specific measure aimed at catching up with the delays accumulated over time related to the National Biodiversity Strategy adopted in 2010, the commitments made at the international level with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the 10-year plan 2011-2020 (and related targets adopted with the Aichi COP 10), which are also essential to achieve several of the targets of Goal 15 with a deadline close to 2020‘.

Institutions have much to do beyond lip service commitments, internationally and domestically. And so the ConsumAtors, the real masters of the supply chain that, as the FAO itself points out, ”Can opt for sustainably grown products, Buy from farmers’ markets or boycott

‘foods considered unsustainable’


Sabrina Bergamini


(1) FAO,
The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture.

(2) Malnutrition, planet-wide, continues to worsen on both fronts of undernutrition and overnutrition. See previous articles (2013), (2015), (2018), (2019)

(3) Asvis, analysis ‘The 2019 budget law and sustainable development,’ at