In a new report, the UN has warned of a serious threat to food production due to a decline in biodiversity. Changes to land use, climate change, and increased pollution are all contributing to a loss in biodiversity. Myriad species are essential in food production for pollination, fertilising of soils, and purifying of air and water. Losing these species will cause a serious knock-on effect to food production.
On top of this, we are reliant on a few key plants in food production to feed the growing population. Only 9 of the 6,000 crop species cultivated for food account for 66% of the total food produced. This is particularly risky, as should any of these species fall victim to a serious blight, there would be an enormous effect on global food production. The same concern exists with livestock. Whilst there are around 40 livestock species used in food production globally, only a few make up the majority of egg, milk and meat production. It is for this reason that outbreaks, such as BSE, are taken so seriously, with culls enacted to halt the spread of disease.
The UN report warns of the potential harm to humans that can result from the spread of disease and pests, citing the Irish potato famine as an example of a worst-case scenario. A fungal disease devastated potato harvests for several years in the 1840s, leading to a million deaths from illness and starvation.
Whilst efforts are being made around the world to improve biodiversity, the UN warns this is not happening quickly or substantially enough. With a population set to hit 10 billion by 2050, the potential harm from a major disease outbreak in crops would only affect more people more severely.