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German development cooperation

Food security through agricultural diversity

Market stall with vegetables in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

An important aspect of biological diversity is agrobiodiversity – the wide range of plant and animal species, and also ecosystems, that are used in agriculture.

Regional crops and animals were once prolific but for centuries their numbers have been declining sharply. In the developed coun­tries this process has occurred mainly in the 20th century and the trend has now weakened, but in the developing coun­tries it continues unabated. For example, in 1949 there were still 10,000 local varieties of wheat being grown in China; fewer than 1,000 are now grown on a significant scale.

The reasons for the loss of species diversity in agriculture are varied and complex. Through intensification, rationalisation and specialisation modern agriculture itself bears much of the responsibility for the reduction in agricultural diversity. Other important causes of the loss of species and varieties are the introduction of genetically modified crops, the lack of economic incentives to conserve biodiversity and the progressive privatisation of genetic resources.

Yet at the start of the 21st century we are still dependent on agricultural diversity – indeed, its importance is growing. On the one hand it plays an important part in food security, especially for people in developing countries. On the other, a large gene pool makes it easier for agriculture to adapt to global environmental changes, such as climate change and desertification. Agro­bio­di­ver­sity is also of growing importance to industry, for example in food pro­duc­tion, as a source of raw materials for drugs and cosmetics and as basis for generating renewable energy.

Germany promotes rural de­vel­op­ment

German de­vel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion promotes the conservation of agricultural diversity through a number of measures in the area of rural de­vel­op­ment. For example, rural communities in partner countries are helped to grow endangered crops or to breed and sell traditional farm animals. Many of these items are highly prized in the developed countries as delicacies, remedies or spa and therapy products, and they sell for high prices.

The rights of farmers to conserve, propagate and distribute their local seed still need to be strengthened. Small farms, in par­tic­u­lar, need help with plant breeding and seed production.

Like agrobiodiversity, biodiversity in oceans, coastal zones and wetlands makes an important contribution to human food security. Germany is there­fore involved internationally in promoting projects to conserve areas such as mangrove forests and coral protection zones. These provide a habitat for many plant and animal species while also giving coasts natural protection against storm surges and erosion.

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