Germany’s contribution

Ensuring food security through agricultural biodiversity

Sorghum varieties in Tanzania

Agro-biodiversity is an important area of biodiversity. It plays a decisive part in food security, especially for people in developing countries. Plant species local to the region often do better in less fertile soils than the high-yield varieties. Mixed farming prevents the risks associated with lost crops. Also, a large gene pool makes it easier for agriculture to adapt to global environmental changes, such as climate change and desertification.

Agro-biodiversity is also becoming increasingly important to industry, for example in food production, as a source of raw materials for drugs and cosmetics, and as the basis for generating renewable energy.

Species loss in agriculture

Regional crops and farm animals were once prolific but have been declining sharply for more than a century. In the industrialised countries this process occurred primarily in the 20th Century. Those locations have seen a slow-down in this trend, but the loss is continuing in the partner countries of German development cooperation. 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 biodiversity in agriculture are varied and complex. Modern agricultural practices resulting in intensification, rationalisation, specialisation and concentration in production bear much of the responsibility for the reduction in agricultural diversity. Other important factors that have contributed to 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.

Germany promotes rural development

Market stall with vegetables in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Germany promotes the conservation of agricultural diversity through numerous development cooperation measures in the area of rural development. For example, rural communities in partner countries are helped to grow endangered crops or to raise and sell traditional livestock breeds. Many of these products are highly prized in industrialised countries as delicacies, remedies or spa and therapy products, and they sell for high prices.

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

Like agro-biodiversity, biodiversity in oceans, coastal zones and wetlands makes an important contribution to human food security. Germany therefore supports projects worldwide to conserve mangrove forests and coral protection zones, for example. These areas provide a habitat for many plant and animal species while also giving coasts natural protection against storm surges and erosion.

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