Why crop diversity matters

Diversity of crops plays a wide variety of role underpinning services provided by agriculture. On the one hand crop diversity provides in itself a range of services in terms of foods, medicine, clothes or building materials provided by many forms of plants. At the same time crop diversity is essential natural resource helping sustain various biological but also socio-economic functions of agriculture. For instance we know that high levels biodiversity supports ecosystems healthier sustaining their capacity to continue providing services, including food production. Additionally developing future agricultural varieties for altered growing conditions such as warming temperatures depends on having high crop diversity.  This is because a wide gene pool makes it more likely that researchers can locate traits needed to improve crops endowing them with desired properties such as resistance to drought or disease. Moreover maintaining a diverse range of crops can help sustain diverse agricultural ecosystems important to rural livelihoods. Varieties that have adapted gradually through time to match local conditions play a vital role in allowing complex agro ecosystems remain productive. So in this sense diversity of crops is an end service of agriculture but also underpins many functions of agriculture.

Yet modernisation of agriculture in very simple terms has meant increasing output per person while decreasing the variety of plants.  As crop diversity shrinks the risk is that plants are displaced before we have even realized the services they can provide. In order to support the ability of crop diversity to continue offering multiple values to man it is important that genebanks continue to conserve this valuable natural resource.

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