The genetic and phenotypic differences within crops used in

The term
diverse in itself means variation. Diversity can be related to any aspect of
life. Biodiversity is the the variation and differences in living organisms in
the world or in any particular ecosystem. Similarly, crop diversity is the
variation of genetic and phenotypic differences within crops used in
agriculture (Bruins 2015). It refers to the use of many different kinds of
crops in farming as opposed to a single type, also known as monoculture in
farming. However, due to monoculture agriculture, land-use modification,
invasive species and many more human impacts, the diversity of crops has
gradually decline in the last 50 years (Aguilar 2012). Over the years both genetic
diversity within crops and the number of species of each crop grown has
decreased. Crop diversity is vital for the well being of humans, in the sense
of having sustainable food supplies, the economy, and the global environment.

In order to relate crop diversity to an average
individual I decided to go to two major

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grocery stores and record the number of produce species
available for purchase. I went to ACME Markets and ShopRite and made a table of
the different types of fruits and vegetables present in the grocery stores. By
analyzing the data and creating a graph, as seen in Figure 1a and 1b, we are
able to see the variability in the number of species of each product. By doing
so I was able to observe the crop diversity present in an average grocery store
and relate this to the main idea of crop diversity nationwide as well as
globally.

The results showed that some species such as apples and
potatoes offered a greater variety of species compared to fruits such as
bananas, that had only one species available. Those fruits that only had one
species available will thus have greater chances of being extinct if any pest
or disease affects the crop. This relates to the idea of food security and by
having more than one species of a crop we will be able to withstand any
environmental or human pressures that can affect the well being of the plant as
a whole.

            Biodiversity is integral for ecosystems
to flourish in productivity, ecosystem services as well resilience. In the United
States, approximately 408 million acres or around 22% of land is used for
agriculture (Bruins 2015). Biodiversity within agricultural systems is affected
by other processes such as nutrient and water cycling, pest and disease
regulation, and lastly the degradation of pesticides. Diversity within
ecosystems allows for resistant against climate change as well as sustenance
against pest control. Some researchers have shown that the biodiversity of
crops has declined in both naturally occurring organisms as well as crop
species (Aguilar 2012).

            A study
was done by Jonathan Aguilar and his colleagues in which they looked at the
biodiversity of different regions of the United States over a period of 34
years. The study concluded that the US Census of Agriculture crop production
shows that crop species diversity has declined in the US from 1978 to 2012
(Aguilar 2012). In some of the regions studied, there was actually an increase
in biodiversity. This shows that the specificity of crop selection by farmers
and how that in effect leads to changes in overall crop biodiversity. Farmers
have always been able to manipulate the production of crops by processes of
selection and domestication. These traditional methods of farming leads to
changes in crop diversity and in result it affects the availability of foods in
general.

Crop
diversity is significant for many reasons, one being the overall food security.

Food security is not only the production of nutritious foods but it also
involves the distribution and access of these foods to individuals in order to
lead healthy lives (Kinver 2014). Therefore, crop diversity for global food
security is essential. It ensures that there will be enough food supply for not
only the present day population but also the future generations regardless of
global climate changes. Human population is constantly on the rise and with the
increased number of humans means greater challenges to sustain food security.

In order to maintain food security through crop diversity we need to conserve
genebanks, which allows to have a back up in case of any food scarcity. One
example is Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, which stores many kinds of
seeds in case of any apocalypse in the world that kills off all the available
crops. With these seed vaults and genebanks we can preserve crop diversity and
have it available at our disposable if need be.

            Another main impact of crop
diversity is helping to combat global warming. As the climate begins to change
this causes difficulties for farmers to grow stable crops, especially in
developing countries. In order to prepare for and combat the effects of global
warming, genetically diverse crops must be grown. Crops that have genes to
withstand harsh climate changes are essential in withstanding extinction and to
maintain global food security. These crops must be able to survive through
severe heat, drought, flood and such. Therefore, we need to preserve the crop
diversity today in order to be well equipped for climate fluctuations in the future.

            One of the major environmental
concerns we have today is the loss of biodiversity within our crops. As trends
continue in this direction we may lose almost half of the plant species that we
have today (Bruins 2015). The crops we have today such as wheat, maize, rice
and sorghum are endangered. Along with the cereal crops, legume species, and
botanical families such as potato, tomato etc. are also threatened. Therefore,
by using crop genetic diversity mentioned previously, we can help to protect
the environment. Crops that are already resistant to some pests and diseases due
to their genes make using harmful pesticides unneeded and unnecessary,
therefore less chemicals are released into the atmosphere. Similarly, plants
that are resistant to drought as mentioned previously will be able to help
conserve water storages. Furthermore, plants with perennial roots help with
maintaining top soil and absorbing nutrients which means reduction in
fertilizer use. Lowering the use of fertilizer means less nitrates in the soil
and leaching in bodies of water. If all measures and precautions are taken to
conserve the diversity of crops, then maybe less land is actually needed to
produce the same amount of food (Bruins 2015). Overall, less deforestation and
clearing cutting will be needed in order to provide for more farm land.

            Crop diversity is also important in
maintaining not only the quantity of food produced but also its quality.

Enhancing the nutritional value of crops is known as dietary diversity. By
using genetic diversity and modification we can produce crops that have higher
levels of nutrients such as vitamins and minerals or even with less toxins.

Research has already been done that has increased the beta-carotene in sweet
potatoes, the iron and zinc levels in beans and reduced the levels of
neurotoxins in a species of grasspea (Bruins 2015). Altering the genetic makeup
of crops is highly beneficial in acquiring beneficial nutrients from it.

            Agriculture is a booming industry
due to its high economic value, especially in developing countries. The growth
of a country is shown to be related to its agricultural productivity, therefore
more agriculture means more money. This industry is highly beneficial for
poverty stricken individuals. Almost 70% of the world’s poorest people’s
livelihoods depend on agriculture (Bruins 2015). Therefore, in order to
maintain the effectiveness of this industry, maintaining crop diversity is
highly important. Crop diversity allows farmers to produce crops that give
higher yields and with improved nutritional qualities that are preferred by
consumers. The genetic diversity of crops allows farmers to breed crops that
can be stored longer or transported easier. Once again, they can breed crops
that are resistant to pests, insects and diseases and thus being protected from
crop failure and less risk of economic loss. Some scientists believe that crop
diversity is a major weapon at the disposal of humans to fight against hunger
and poverty (Bruins 2015).

            The use
of crop diversity allows farmers to develop new agricultural systems that
result with the least environmental impacts. Some parts of the world are able
to recognize the importance of maintaining crop diversity and have taken
measures to protect it. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
has announced to secure crop diversity by the year of 2020 in order to preserve
food security as well as nutrition. The United Nations Sustainable Development
Goals Target 2.5 states that “by 2020 maintain
the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated
animals and their related wild species, including through soundly managed and
diversified seed and plant banks at the national, regional and international
levels, and promote access to and fair and equitable sharing of benefits
arising from the utilization of genetic resources and associated traditional
knowledge, as internationally agreed” (Bruins 2015).

            Nonetheless,
crop diversity is integral to the basis of the agricultural industry. Crop
diversity within agriculture gives us the ability to maintain enough food
production for the ever growing human population. Crop diversity is not only
important for us in the present but also to ensure our future. Increase in
biodiversity ensures food availability, it helps to improve the quality of the
environment and it also helps the poor people in developing countries. We must
raise awareness and take active roles in increasing our overall crop diversity
so that in turn we can help our economy, our climate and most importantly our
future. 

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