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Lack of Biodiversity in Farming Poses Threat to Survival of Humankind, Says Biodiversity Scientist

May 27, 2013 01:07 PM EDT

For years, scientists have warned regarding the rapid extinction of the world’s species; however, according to the head of a new global organization, even domesticated plants and animals are facing a decline in biodiversity - a phenomenon that, according to a press release, “constitutes a fundamental threat to the well-being and even the survival of humankind.”

Such were the first public remarks of Zakri Abdul Hamid, the chair of the new Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an independent institution modeled on the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Specifically, the IPBES is dedicated to narrowing the divide between leading biodiversity scientists and policy-makers.

Zakri, who co-chaired the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and serves also as science advisor to Malaysia's prime minister, pointed to findings by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization that "we are hurtling towards irreversible environmental tipping points that, once passed, would reduce the ability of ecosystems to provide essential goods and services to humankind."

This lack of diversification, Zakri said, is a result of breeds that become rare either because their characteristics are not a part of contemporary demand or because the differences of their qualities are not recognized.

Fortunately, according to Zakri, there is hope yet in the case of animals.

"The good news is the rate of decline is dropping but the latest data classify 22% of domesticated breeds at risk of extinction," he said.

In terms of crops, however, roughly 75 percent of genetic diversity was lost in the last century as farmers worldwide switched to genetically uniform, high-yielding varieties and abandoned multiple local varieties, according to Zakri.

For this reason, there are 30,000 edible plant species but only 30 crops account for 95 percent of human food energy, the bulk of which - some 60 percent - comes down to rice, wheat, maize, millet and sorghum.

"The decline in the diversity of crops and animals is occurring in tandem with the need to sharply increase world food production and as a changing environment makes it more important than ever to have a large genetic pool to enable organisms to withstand and adapt to new conditions," Hadim said.

Based on these findings, Hamid stated that a shift in the way a nation measures its overall progress is necessary.

“We need to meet the fundamental challenge of decoupling economic growth from natural resource consumption, which is forecast to triple by 2050 unless humanity can find effective ways to 'do more and better with less,'” he said.

And while he admitted that “there are no simple blueprints for addressing a challenge as vast and complex as this,” he said that what is needed is "measures of societal progress that go beyond Gross Domestic Product. We need the kind of vision embodied in the Inclusive Wealth Index being pioneered by Sir Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge University, Anantha Duraiappah at IHDP, and Pushpam Kumar at UNEP. As they have convincingly argued, enlightened measures of wealth that include natural capital, not just output like GDP, offers a real portrait of sustainable development," he added.

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