chapter  2
33 Pages

Overview of agricultural biodiversity and its contribution to nutrition and health

ByVERNON H. HEYWOOD

Agricultural biodiversity is the first link in the food chain, developed and safeguarded by indigenous people throughout the world, and it makes an essential contribution to feeding the world.

(Nakhauka, 2009)

The world’s agriculture and its ability to provide food for the ever-growing human population can be regarded as one of the great success stories of human civilization. It developed from our use of the natural capital of wild plant and animal biodiversity through a long period of natural and human selection and breeding of crops and the development of agronomic skills. The use of the diversity of wild species is at the very basis of human development. Across the world, our ancestors’ hunter-gatherer nutritional regime depended on local wild species of plants and animals for food while others, mainly plants, provided materials for shelter, fibre and fuel and medicine. The transition from huntinggathering to agriculture (Neolithic revolution) started some 12,500 years ago when the domestication of a small number of wild plant species in various parts of the world led to the first agricultural revolution that provided us with a relatively secure source of food.1 This in turn allowed human communities to grow and adopt a more sedentary way of life that paved the way for the development of villages, towns and cities that increasingly dominate our way of life and all the social and cultural changes that this involves. The diversity we have today in these crops and domesticated animals is the result of the interaction between countless generations of farmers and the plants and animals they domesticated, either through farming or aquaculture, and their environment.