Raise Awareness on Biodiversity to Increase Biodiversity-Friendly Cultivation of Our Food

  • 2021/08/24     Dresden, Germany

    By Laura Hoffmann

    At the second instalment of the Saxon Dialogue on Biodiversity with the leading question: Looking at our Dining Table: How Do our Food Choices Influence the State of Biodiversity? four experts shared their expertise on the interlinkages between biodiversity and our food system at different scales.

    Biodiversity is essential for the sustainability and security of our food supply system. It contributes to pollination, pest control, soil fertility, and water quality regulation. According to the Global Biodiversity Outlook 5, a higher diversity of genes, species, and ecosystems leads to a more resilient and efficient production (Convention on Biological Diversity 2020). Meanwhile, our food system is the main driver for habitat loss, and local varieties of domesticated plants and animals are disappearing (IPBES, 2019). Recognising the interdependency of our demands on nature and biodiversity loss calls for rethinking food consumption and production.

    How Are Our Food Choices Linked to Biodiversity?

    Dr Stefan Schmitz (The Crop Trust) opened the seminar by introducing the term “agrobiodiversity” which includes the diversity of agri-food systems, of domesticated plants and animals, and the agrigenetic diversity. With industrialisation, the production of food was optimised, and specific varieties were preferred for their resistance against pests and diseases. Breeding aimed to increase yields and with standardised procedures, a few people are capable to provide cheap food for a lot of people. An estimated 75 per cent of crop genetic resources were lost between 1900 and 2000 (FAO 2010). However, within gene banks, the genetic resources can be conserved, keeping options open for a future change.

    Providing the national perspective, Prof. Jens Dauber (Thünen Institute of Biodiversity in Braunschweig) indicated that the agri-food-system has a major responsibility in protecting biodiversity because 50 per cent of land in Germany, for instance, is used for agriculture. The simpler our landscape is designed, the fewer species can live in this landscape and can contribute positively to pollination and pest control. Besides our decisions in the supermarket, political decisions have an important role in biodiversity-friendly land use.

    The regional perspective was offered by Thomas Schneider (Co-Creation Lab Agriculture and Biodiversity at Saxony5) and showed how change is possible when science is linked with local farmers’ experience. With crop rotation, the precise usage of fertilisers, and the implementation of ecological farming, the impact on biodiversity can be minimised. However, only 7.5 per cent of agricultural land in Saxony is cultivated ecologically which is less than the national figure of 9.7  per cent across Germany in 2019 (Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture).

    Prof. Nicole van Dam (German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research – iDiv) provided insights on the molecular diversity of plants. Wild species produce chemicals which work as their natural defence mechanism against pest and predators.  Although rarely mentioned, the knowledge on plant chemical diversity can be used to substitute pesticides to some extent, which is more insect-friendly.










    Consumers’ responsibility for their decisions in the supermarket

    The awareness of the complex interdependencies of biodiversity and our food system is still very low among consumers, and therefore, the latter are not aware of the consequences of their everyday decisions in the supermarket. If we want to protect biodiversity, we need to question not only what we buy in the supermarket but also how much we consume and throw away.

    According to the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (2019), 75 kilograms of food are thrown away per person per year of which half were theoretically avoidable. In addition, reducing meat and dairy product consumption could have a positive chain effect on biodiversity, since 57 per cent of cereal products in Germany are used for animal feed. A reduced consumption of animal products may lead to a lower cereal production and less land would be covered in cultivations.

    Existing policies and laws do not yet include a system of incentives for biodiversity-friendly cultivation. Due to low awareness of biodiversity among civil society and actors within the food supply chain, there is also low interest in farmers’ sustainable actions for protecting biodiversity. In addition, biodiversity-friendly products cannot be easily identified in the supermarket – environmentally-friendly products can only be assumed to be less harmful to biodiversity than others. Even if these products might not directly have a positive impact on biodiversity, our experts agreed, that it is still a better choice than conventionally farmed products.

    In the laboratory, scientists and plant breeders are already collaborating to establish new varieties of plants with higher resistance against pests by using their chemical and genetic diversity. On the field, the knowledge and experiences of farmers contribute to scientists’ investigations on transformative strategies through co-design. The use of agricultural land has to be changed to create new habitats for biodiversity within the field. As a next step, the dialogue has to start also with civil society to raise awareness for biodiversity through public education. A rethink of the existing food systems is necessary for change and innovation, such as genetic modifications in plants to reduce pesticides and fertilisers. This is an opportunity to ensure sustainable food production. Civil society needs to understand that biodiversity is the foundation of human life on Earth and appreciate biodiversity-friendly actions to increase motivation for a sustainable food production.