New book links sustainable diets, food biodiversity & food security

The United Nations Food Organisation (FAO) and Bioversity International have released a book entitled Sustainable Diets and Biodiversity: Directions and Solutions for Policy, Research and Action” which urges action to promote sustainable diets and food biodiversity for the health of humans and the Earth. The book contains the proceedings of the International Scientific Symposium titled “Biodiversity and Sustainable Diets United Against Hunger,” which convened in November 2010.

sustainable diets image“Regardless of the many successes of agriculture in the last three decades, it is clear that food systems, and diets, are not sustainable,” says Barbara Burlingame, Principal Officer of FAO’s Nutrition and Consumer Protection Division, in a preface to the book, Sustainable Diets and Biodiversity.

“While over 900 million people in the world suffer from hunger, even more – about 1.5 billion – are overweight or obese, and an estimated two billion suffer from micronutrient malnutrition including vitamin A, iron, or iodine deficiency,” Burlingame notes.

The problem of feeding the world’s growing population has so far been seen largely in terms of providing sufficient quantities of food, the book points out.  But the pace of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, coupled with emerging health issues related to diet, make it urgent to address the quality of agriculture and food systems. Poor diets are linked to marked increases in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardio-vascular diseases across the world.

Bruce Cogill from Biodiversity International is a Nutrition Expert talks about sustainable diets

Currently just three major staple crops – corn, wheat and rice – provide  60 percent of the dietary energy from plant origin at global level, while, with rising incomes in developing economies, huge numbers of people are abandoning traditional plant-based foods in favour of diets rich in meat, dairy products, fats and sugar .

The book argues that modern diets and food production methods play a significant role in shrinking plant and animal genetic diversity, with 17,291 species out of  47,677 assessed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature described as threatened with extinction.

One of the papers in the book by Denis Lairon on ‘Biodiversity and sustainable nutrition with a food-based approach’ emphasizes that: “there is thus an urgent need to launch a new strategy to develop the concept and use of sustainable diets in the various contexts of industrialized and developing countries, to ensure food security and quality.”

Lairon adds that “such systems should be based on low-input agro-ecological staple food production including limited animal husbandry, short-distance production-consumption nets, minimal food processing and refining, important culinary skills, diet and nutrition education, and firm links to positive traits of ancestral local cultures as well as appropriate use of recent technology tools. Biodiversity improvement appears to be a key for sustainable food production and food consumption.”

Our food systems need to undergo ‘radical transformations’ towards a more efficient use of resources and more efficiency and equity in the consumption of food and towards sustainable diets, Burlingame says.

Burlingame also notes that “Sustainable diets can address the consumption of foods with lower water and carbon footprints, promote the use of food biodiversity, including traditional and local foods, with their many nutritionally rich species and varieties. The sustainable diets’ approach will contribute in the capturing efficiencies through the ecosystem approach throughout the food chain. Sustainable diets can also contribute to the transition to nutrition-sensitive and climatesmart agriculture and nutrition-driven food systems.”

Sources & information:
Sustainable Diets and Biodiversity: Directions and Solutions for Policy, Research and Action 
FAO medi arelease

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