By Abimbola Akosile
A new international project, the Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition Project, has been launched at the World Nutrition Rio Congress 2012.
The project aims to address the narrowing variety of people's diets, with nutritionally-poor processed foods dominating the dinner table worldwide.
Also, officials at the recent project launch in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, have said that 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.
They maintained that the emphasis can also address growing global concerns over poor nutrition and its negative health effects.
This trend, the experts said, has led to a raft of health issues worldwide, where 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 Executive Secretary, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Braulio Dias. “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 Organisation 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 CEO and Chairperson of the GEF, Monique Barbut.
In addition to researching biodiversity's role in nutrition, the $35-million project, supported by the GEF with $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.