Over the last 50 years, human diets around the world have grown ever more similar and the trend shows no signs of slowing, with major consequences for human nutrition and global food security, according to research carried out at International Center for Tropical Agriculture.
According to Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security, crops now predominant in diets around the world include several that were already quite important a half-century ago—such as wheat, rice, maize and potato. But the emerging “standard global food supply” described by the study also consists of energy-dense foods that have risen to global fame more recently, like soybean, sunflower oil and palm oil. Wheat is a major staple in 97.4 percent of countries and rice in 90.8 percent; soybean has become significant to 74.3 percent of countries.
In contrast, many crops of considerable regional importance—including cereals like sorghum, millets and rye, as well as root crops such as sweet potato, cassava and yam—have lost ground. Many other locally significant grain and vegetable crops—for which globally comparable data are not available—have suffered the same fate. For example, a nutritious tuber crop known as Oca, once grown widely in the Andean highlands, has declined significantly in this region both in cultivation and consumption.
A major danger of a more homogeneous global food basket is that it makes agriculture more vulnerable to major threats like drought, insect pests and diseases, which are likely to become worse in many parts of the world as a result of climate change, the report says.
Further more, as more and more of the world’s population eats the same foods we are now obliged to bolster the nutritional quality of the major crops, as consumption of other nutritious grains and vegetables declines, according to lead author Colin Khoury.
The researchers have singled out five actions that are needed to foster diversity in food production and consumption and thus improve nutrition and food security:
- Actively promote the adoption of a wider range of varieties of the major crops worldwide to boost genetic diversity.
- Support the conservation and use of diverse plant genetic resources — including farmers’ traditional varieties and wild species related to crops—which are critical for broadening the genetic diversity of the major crops.
- Enhance the nutritional quality of the major crops on which people depend.
- Promote alternative crops that can boost the resilience of farming and make human diets healthier .
- Foster public awareness of the need for healthier diets, based on better decisions about what and how much we eat as well as the forms in which we consume food.
In February, the International Food Policy Research Institute, released a book examining which current and potential strategies offer solutions to fight global hunger in the face of an ever-expanding population.