THINK ON THESE: Biodiversity for food and health

THINK ON THESE: Henrylito Tacio

“Nature is essential for human existence and good quality of life.” – Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services


“Our Biodiversity, Our Food, Our Health.”  This is the theme of the International Day for Biological Diversity, which is observed around the world every May 22.

“Our health depends on the food we eat while our continuing supply of food relies on biodiversity and ecosystem services,” said Dr. Theresa Mundita S. Lim, executive director of the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), in a press statement which EDGE Davao obtained.

Most people don’t care about biodiversity.  They think biodiversity or endangered species have nothing to do about them.  What they don’t know is that our planet functions as a “living planet” with many parts dependent on each other, according to Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, an ecologist at the George Mason University.

In this year’s observation, the ACB is highlighting the importance of a healthy agricultural biodiversity or agrobiodiversity for short.  It covers three areas, namely: genes, species, and ecosystems.

“The diversity in genes within our plants and animals ensures that plant and animal species continue to survive,” Lim explained. “The diversity among species ensures that the variety of food we eat meets our nutritional needs.”

Lim believed good and balanced nutrition come from eating a variety of food species.  “The diversity in ecosystems, which provide a goods and services from nature, ensures health and survival of our food species,” she added.

These days, whether you are living in Manila, Singapore, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, people have access to a greater quantity of food. Although in most instances, they come with a price.

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations reports that agricultural output has increased over 160% since the 1960s, but the world’s population has more than doubled.  The Philippines, for instance, is now home to more than 100 million people.

The continuous increase of population has resulted in the destruction of the planet.  In fact, FAO warned that “there are tradeoffs in increasing food production, primarily the degradation of ecosystems due to unsustainable agricultural practices.”

Examples of unsustainable agricultural practices include monocropping (the planting of one crop in an area) and excessive use of pesticide and inorganic fertilizer (both destroy the land where they are applied).

The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD) reported that in the last 100 years, more than 90% of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields.

“Half of the breeds of many domestic animals have been lost, and all of the world’s 17 main fishing grounds are now being fished at or above their sustainable limits,” Lim deplored.

The SCBD further reported that locally-varied food production systems are under threat, including related indigenous, traditional and local knowledge.

“With this decline, agrobiodiversity is disappearing, including essential knowledge of traditional medicine and local foods,” Lim reiterated. “The loss of diverse diets is directly linked to diseases and health risk factors such as diabetes, obesity and malnutrition, and has a direct impact on the availability of traditional medicines.”

Most Filipinos don’t know that about 70% of the drugs used to fight cancer “are natural or are synthetic products inspired by nature,” said the Global Assessment Report released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

Unlike those in the past, today’s diet as a whole has less variety. “Clearly, we may have a greater quantity of food but we are losing food diversity which is key to balanced nutrition,” Lim said.

As such, we need to protect the biodiversity that sustain us through these years and in the years to come.  Or else, they will be gone forever. “Protecting biodiversity means protecting mankind because we human beings depend fundamentally on the diversity of the living,” said Audrey Azoulay, director-general of the United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organization.

All are enjoined to do his or her part.  “Unless we act now, we will undermine human well-being for current and future generations,” Sir Robert Watson, the outgoing chairman of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, was quoted as saying by Associated Press.

Again, here’s a plea from Lim: “As we join the global community in celebrating the International Day for Biological Diversity, let us take the opportunity to promote sustainable agricultural systems to conserve our biodiversity and ensure that we will be able to feed the world, maintain agricultural livelihoods, and enhance human health, thus, ensuring wellness and survival this century and beyond.”