CHANGING humanity's food habits may be key to ensuring future biodiversity and more sustainable farming practices – this was the key message delivered in a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization on ‘The State of the World’s Biodiversity’.

The report garnered views from across the globe, including researchers from Scotland’s Rural College. Co-ordinator Dr Ian Dawson, who works for SRUC in Edinburgh and World Agroforestry in Kenya, said: “In our study we aimed to quantify the roles of biodiversity in supporting food production by looking at crop, livestock and aquaculture sectors, although the best data is connected with crop production and so we focus here.”

The study illustrates the importance of interactions between crops and pollinators, trees, soil micro-organisms, livestock and aquatic animals – all forms of biodiversity – in supporting food production.

It also explores trends in food systems and how these affect the opportunities for biodiversity to play a more important role in future food production.

The findings suggest that opportunities come, for example, through breeding crops for more positive crop–crop interactions, by introducing more legume crops into production systems, by introducing pollinator populations into production landscapes and through implementing agronomic practices that support beneficial soil microbe populations.

For livestock production, breed and crop feedstock diversification are essential, and for aquatic production there needs to be a diversification of crop and animal-based feed resources.

However, Dr Dawson said that these biodiversity-based models won’t work for farmers if they don’t profit from adopting them - meaning the labour and adoption costs of new approaches also need to be considered.

“Focusing on developing demand for new foods is an important component in encouraging more diverse and sustainable production,” D Dawson continued. “Work in the demand area may ultimately be more important for driving adoption of new production practices than the more efficient production of a new food, although clearly both are needed.”