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Making biodiverse agriculture part of a food-secure future
Date:2/15/2014

ate knowledge of the local soil, plants and animals enables smallholders to maximize output. In Brazil, for example, national data from the Censo Agropecuário shows that "family farms" produce 38 percent of national agricultural value from 24 percent of the agricultural land. An assessment of 286 projects in 57 countries, moreover, shows that low-cost, sustainable and diversity-enhancing technologies increased average crop yields on small farms by 79 percent since the early 1990s.

Recognizing the value of particular elements of agrobiodiversity with exceptional nutritional and health properties can provide opportunities where smallholder farmers have economic advantages, Prof. Johns argues. Access to such products offers potentially profound public health benefits, he adds. "Products of biodiversity within culturally-based diets provide essential micronutrients and lower prevalence of diet-related chronic disease."

Carbohydrates--mainly cereals, sugars, potatoes and other tubers--and vegetable oils produced efficiently by large-scale agriculture and distributed through global trade are more affordable for many people than lower-calorie, more nutritious foods. In many cases, the result is a form of malnutrition defined by overconsumption of calories. This has helped fuel a growing global epidemic of obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Meanwhile, some 2 billion people suffer from deficiencies in micronutrients, most importantly iron, vitamin A, iodine and zinc. This typically results from not eating enough foods rich in essential vitamins and minerals, such as animal-source foods, fruits, vegetables and legumes.

Socially guided food-policy decisions should value the environmental, health, social and cultural benefits offered by agrobiodiversity, Prof. Johns argues. One example of this approach: Brazil's National School Feeding Law and program since 2009 requires that at least 30 percent of
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Contact: Chris Chipello
christopher.chipello@mcgill.ca
514-717-4201
McGill University
Source:Eurekalert

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