The termdiverse in itself means variation. Diversity can be related to any aspect oflife.
Biodiversity is the the variation and differences in living organisms inthe world or in any particular ecosystem. Similarly, crop diversity is thevariation of genetic and phenotypic differences within crops used inagriculture (Bruins 2015). It refers to the use of many different kinds ofcrops in farming as opposed to a single type, also known as monoculture infarming. However, due to monoculture agriculture, land-use modification,invasive species and many more human impacts, the diversity of crops hasgradually decline in the last 50 years (Aguilar 2012). Over the years both geneticdiversity within crops and the number of species of each crop grown hasdecreased. Crop diversity is vital for the well being of humans, in the senseof having sustainable food supplies, the economy, and the global environment.
In order to relate crop diversity to an averageindividual I decided to go to two major grocery stores and record the number of produce speciesavailable for purchase. I went to ACME Markets and ShopRite and made a table ofthe different types of fruits and vegetables present in the grocery stores. Byanalyzing the data and creating a graph, as seen in Figure 1a and 1b, we areable to see the variability in the number of species of each product. By doingso I was able to observe the crop diversity present in an average grocery storeand relate this to the main idea of crop diversity nationwide as well asglobally. The results showed that some species such as apples andpotatoes offered a greater variety of species compared to fruits such asbananas, that had only one species available. Those fruits that only had onespecies available will thus have greater chances of being extinct if any pestor disease affects the crop. This relates to the idea of food security and byhaving more than one species of a crop we will be able to withstand anyenvironmental or human pressures that can affect the well being of the plant asa whole. Biodiversity is integral for ecosystemsto flourish in productivity, ecosystem services as well resilience.
In the UnitedStates, approximately 408 million acres or around 22% of land is used foragriculture (Bruins 2015). Biodiversity within agricultural systems is affectedby other processes such as nutrient and water cycling, pest and diseaseregulation, and lastly the degradation of pesticides. Diversity withinecosystems allows for resistant against climate change as well as sustenanceagainst pest control. Some researchers have shown that the biodiversity ofcrops has declined in both naturally occurring organisms as well as cropspecies (Aguilar 2012). A studywas done by Jonathan Aguilar and his colleagues in which they looked at thebiodiversity of different regions of the United States over a period of 34years.
The study concluded that the US Census of Agriculture crop productionshows 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 increasein biodiversity. This shows that the specificity of crop selection by farmersand how that in effect leads to changes in overall crop biodiversity. Farmershave always been able to manipulate the production of crops by processes ofselection and domestication. These traditional methods of farming leads tochanges in crop diversity and in result it affects the availability of foods ingeneral. Cropdiversity is significant for many reasons, one being the overall food security.Food security is not only the production of nutritious foods but it alsoinvolves the distribution and access of these foods to individuals in order tolead healthy lives (Kinver 2014).
Therefore, crop diversity for global foodsecurity is essential. It ensures that there will be enough food supply for notonly the present day population but also the future generations regardless ofglobal climate changes. Human population is constantly on the rise and with theincreased number of humans means greater challenges to sustain food security.
In order to maintain food security through crop diversity we need to conservegenebanks, which allows to have a back up in case of any food scarcity. Oneexample is Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, which stores many kinds ofseeds in case of any apocalypse in the world that kills off all the availablecrops. With these seed vaults and genebanks we can preserve crop diversity andhave it available at our disposable if need be. Another main impact of cropdiversity is helping to combat global warming. As the climate begins to changethis causes difficulties for farmers to grow stable crops, especially indeveloping countries. In order to prepare for and combat the effects of globalwarming, genetically diverse crops must be grown.
Crops that have genes towithstand harsh climate changes are essential in withstanding extinction and tomaintain global food security. These crops must be able to survive throughsevere heat, drought, flood and such. Therefore, we need to preserve the cropdiversity today in order to be well equipped for climate fluctuations in the future. One of the major environmentalconcerns we have today is the loss of biodiversity within our crops. As trendscontinue in this direction we may lose almost half of the plant species that wehave today (Bruins 2015). The crops we have today such as wheat, maize, riceand sorghum are endangered. Along with the cereal crops, legume species, andbotanical families such as potato, tomato etc.
are also threatened. Therefore,by using crop genetic diversity mentioned previously, we can help to protectthe environment. Crops that are already resistant to some pests and diseases dueto their genes make using harmful pesticides unneeded and unnecessary,therefore less chemicals are released into the atmosphere. Similarly, plantsthat are resistant to drought as mentioned previously will be able to helpconserve water storages. Furthermore, plants with perennial roots help withmaintaining top soil and absorbing nutrients which means reduction infertilizer use. Lowering the use of fertilizer means less nitrates in the soiland leaching in bodies of water. If all measures and precautions are taken toconserve the diversity of crops, then maybe less land is actually needed toproduce the same amount of food (Bruins 2015). Overall, less deforestation andclearing cutting will be needed in order to provide for more farm land.
Crop diversity is also important inmaintaining not only the quantity of food produced but also its quality.Enhancing the nutritional value of crops is known as dietary diversity. Byusing genetic diversity and modification we can produce crops that have higherlevels of nutrients such as vitamins and minerals or even with less toxins.Research has already been done that has increased the beta-carotene in sweetpotatoes, the iron and zinc levels in beans and reduced the levels ofneurotoxins in a species of grasspea (Bruins 2015). Altering the genetic makeupof crops is highly beneficial in acquiring beneficial nutrients from it. Agriculture is a booming industrydue to its high economic value, especially in developing countries. The growthof a country is shown to be related to its agricultural productivity, thereforemore agriculture means more money.
This industry is highly beneficial forpoverty stricken individuals. Almost 70% of the world’s poorest people’slivelihoods depend on agriculture (Bruins 2015). Therefore, in order tomaintain the effectiveness of this industry, maintaining crop diversity ishighly important.
Crop diversity allows farmers to produce crops that givehigher yields and with improved nutritional qualities that are preferred byconsumers. The genetic diversity of crops allows farmers to breed crops thatcan be stored longer or transported easier. Once again, they can breed cropsthat are resistant to pests, insects and diseases and thus being protected fromcrop failure and less risk of economic loss. Some scientists believe that cropdiversity is a major weapon at the disposal of humans to fight against hungerand poverty (Bruins 2015). The useof crop diversity allows farmers to develop new agricultural systems thatresult with the least environmental impacts. Some parts of the world are ableto recognize the importance of maintaining crop diversity and have takenmeasures to protect it.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)has announced to secure crop diversity by the year of 2020 in order to preservefood security as well as nutrition. The United Nations Sustainable DevelopmentGoals Target 2.5 states that “by 2020 maintainthe genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and farmed and domesticatedanimals and their related wild species, including through soundly managed anddiversified seed and plant banks at the national, regional and internationallevels, and promote access to and fair and equitable sharing of benefitsarising from the utilization of genetic resources and associated traditionalknowledge, as internationally agreed” (Bruins 2015).
Nonetheless,crop diversity is integral to the basis of the agricultural industry. Cropdiversity within agriculture gives us the ability to maintain enough foodproduction for the ever growing human population. Crop diversity is not onlyimportant for us in the present but also to ensure our future. Increase inbiodiversity ensures food availability, it helps to improve the quality of theenvironment and it also helps the poor people in developing countries. We mustraise awareness and take active roles in increasing our overall crop diversityso that in turn we can help our economy, our climate and most importantly ourfuture.