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Press Release

New Agricultural Biodiversity Project to Improve Nutrition and Food Security Worldwide

April 29, 2012


New Agricultural Biodiversity Project to Improve Nutrition and Food Security Worldwide

Undervalued Yet Nutritious Traditional Foods Can Make the Difference


Rio de Janeiro, 28 April 2012 – Placing renewed emphasis on sustaining the natural variety of crops and animals contributing to agriculture, including neglected yet nutritious traditional foods, can improve food security and address growing global concerns over poor nutrition and its negative health effects, officials said at the launch of a new international project at the World Nutrition Rio Congress 2012.

The Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition Project aims to address the narrowing variety of people's diets, with nutritionally-poor processed foods dominating the dinner table. This trend has led to a raft of health issues worldwide. One third of the world's population suffers from hunger and micronutrient malnutrition, while obesity and diet-related chronic illness have reached critical levels.

The diversity of crops and their wild relatives, trees, animals, microbes and other species contributing to food production – known as agricultural biodiversity – can counter these trends, according to Emile Frison, Director General of Bioversity International, which is coordinating the project to further research and promote the links between biodiversity and good nutrition.

"To meet the challenge of feeding the world population of around nine billion by 2050, we need to consider not only sustainably producing sufficient food but also working towards diversified nutrition, which means providing a healthy diet for all," said Braulio Dias, Executive Secretary, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). "Agricultural biodiversity plays a central role in meeting this challenge."

The Global Environment Facility (GEF), the world's largest public funder of international environmental projects, is supporting the multi-country project led by Brazil, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Turkey. Bioversity International is coordinating the project with implementation support from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

"The GEF is making efforts to expand its engagement in the conservation and management of agricultural biodiversity, which provides the mainstay for millions of people worldwide and food security to the world's most vulnerable populations," said Monique Barbut, CEO and Chairperson of the GEF.

In addition to researching biodiversity's role in nutrition, the US $35-million project, supported by the GEF with US$5.5 million and contributions from partner governments and international agencies, aims to provide information on the nutritional and health benefits of traditional food sources to the four partner countries.

The results will enhance the development of policies and regulatory frameworks that promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of often-neglected and forgotten traditional foods, which are often more nutritious and better adapted to local environments, thus having less impact on ecosystems.

"In India, for example, a long series of studies to improve the use of so-called minor millets among very poor farmers has shown multiple beneficial impacts on yields, incomes, profits, the nutritional value of popular snack and breakfast foods and female empowerment, all promoting the likely conservation of these crops and their biological diversity in farmers' fields," Mr. Frison said.

Examples of these foods, some of which have gained global popularity, are:

  • Indigenous leafy vegetables such as amaranth leaves, cleome and nightshade, which are now acknowledged as significant sources of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants
  • Lycopene-rich guava varieties, acerola and pitanga. In Brazil, which already has a great deal of biodiversity in its food supply, these former garden fruits are now commercially produced and processed. Another nutrient-rich fruit from Brazil and elsewhere is the popular açaí berry.
  • Food condiments and spices, which have recently been reported to have anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic, and anti carcinogenic properties. Spices also contribute to daily intakes of iron, zinc and calcium

Arugula (or rocket), a nutritious vegetable once collected as a wild food, and quinoa, an extremely nutritious grain-like crop from the Andes, have both found wide-scale acceptance in the grocery aisles and on restaurant tables throughout the world as a healthy and tasty food. Quinoa holds particular promise in that it is highly adaptable to different climatic and geographic conditions. The United Nations has declared 2013 to be the year of the Quinoa.

The project is consistent with the Cross-Cutting initiative on biodiversity for food and nutrition, which was adopted by the CBD at the eighth Conference of the Parties in 2006, recognizing the importance of the links between biodiversity, food and nutrition.

Additional quotes

"Diversity of diet, founded on diverse farming systems, delivers better nutrition and greater health, with additional benefits for human productivity and livelihoods," said Emile Frison, Director General of Bioversity International. "Agricultural biodiversity is absolutely essential to cope with the predicted impacts of climate change."

"Brazil, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Turkey contain unique agricultural biological diversity that is crucial to the world's food supply," said Marieta Sakalian, UNEP Senior Programme Management Officer, Biodiversity. "This project provides an exceptional platform for bringing key international partners together with the agriculture, environment, health and education sectors at national level to work towards conserving and promoting biodiversity for food and nutrition."

The FAO's principal nutrition officer Barbara Burlingame notes that dietary energy requirements can be satisfied without biodiversity, but micronutrient requirements can only be met through a diversified diet, with biodiversity being the key: "This project includes a research component that will help to improve the evidence base on the nutritional attributes of food biodiversity, thus linking food and nutrition security with conserving biodiversity through sustainable use."

Press Release No 2012/10


Notes to Editors

Given the cross-sectoral and multi-disciplinary nature of this project, national partners have agreed to bring together relevant international partners, which can facilitate both implementation and scaling up beyond the boundaries of the project. To this end, the following international partners committed to participate: World Food Programme (WFP); Earth Institute, Columbia University; Crops for the Future; ICRAF, Centre for Indigenous Peoples' Nutrition and Environment (CINE) and the World Vegetable Centre (AVRDC).

For further information on the project please visit www.bioversityinternational.org.

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