Speaking at the “Crops for the 21st Century” seminar in Córdoba, Spain this week, FAO director-general José Graziano da Silva said that most of the global population’s calories come from four crops: Wheat, maize, rice and potatoes – and our diets have become more homogenous with increased globalisation. This has led to the loss of many traditional foods, as well as less agricultural biodiversity.
“‘Neglected’ crops that are currently underutilized by farmers can play an important role addressing the food and agriculture challenges of the future and should be re-evaluated,” he said.
"…Currently there are about 870 million hungry people in the world, a world that produces enough food for everyone. Globalisation has created an abundance of food in some parts of the world, but has failed to end the chronic shortages that exist elsewhere. "
Graziano da Silva added that overuse of a small number of staples could also lead to poor nutrition, and highlighted relatively small-scale crops such as quinoa, which have potential to contribute to food security because of their high nutritional value, while also being adaptable to various growing conditions.
“Our dependence on a few crops has negative consequences for ecosystems, food diversity and our health. The food monotony increases the risk of micronutrient deficiency," he said.
The FAO estimates that about 7,000 different crops have been grown and consumed throughout human history, but more of these crops have begun to disappear.
“If we lose these unique and irreplaceable resources, it will be more difficult for us to adapt to climate change and ensure a healthy and diversified nutrition for all," Graziano da Silva said. “…We must not lose track of our agricultural and culinary roots, nor the lore and wisdom of our ancestors. On the contrary, we must learn from them, to ensure that our future has even more diversity.”