Maintaining Biodiversity and Feeding the World: Can it be done?

“With 1–10% of the worldʼs species projected to be lost in the next quarter century, [a rate comparable to the Cretaceous extinction event that marked the demise of the dinosaurs]” (Hanski et al. 1995; Lawton and May 1995; Alroy. 2008), how can we as a species slow down the loss of our biodiversity as well as feed a growing number of hungry people around the world? “In a world where obesity and hunger co-occur, it seems beside the point to argue about yield increases…” (Chappell, LaValle. 2011).

It is clear that the solution to hunger in the world is not producing more food, rather slowly changing a complicated and very political global system. As Chappell and LaValle (2011) state, although the human population is still growing, the most recent increase in malnourishment was not the result of the population increase, or even a decrease in crop yields. The increase in food prices due to the rise of petroleum prices has been the strongest factor.

So there you have it, stated quite clearly. Itʼs not that thereʼs no food available, itʼs that the price of producing and transporting it to those who need it is too “expensive”.

There are solutions for this. “The obvious alternative to complete global redistribution of food is to enhance self-sufficiency on a regional and sub- regional basis. In todayʼs globalized and still trade-focused world, greater food self-reliance runs contrary to many trends” (Chappell, LaValle. 2011).

In other words, to solve world hunger there needs to be much more attention paid to localizing food production to cut costs of transportation and create more self-reliant economies. This thought also ties in nicely to our question of conserving biodiversity as well. Contrary to the popular conventional cash-crop exports, localized agriculture helps conserve biodiversity “…with evidence that sufficient food can be produced using alternative methods, it is time to move past reservations about investing in and converting to alternative agriculture…and do it.” (Chappell, LaValle. 2011)

So now weʼd like to leave you with a thought. Although cash crops are such an intrinsic part of our societal and economic construct, it seems clear that they do not provide sustainable or socially fair food. Globally, food is not fair. How might we go about providing ethical nourishment to everyone around the world while maintaining global biodiversity?


Chappell, M., LaValle, L. “Food Security and Biodiversity: Can We Have Both? An Agroecological Analysis.” (2011). Web. Mar 7. 2012.

Hanski, I., J. Clobert, and W. Reid. 1995. Generation, maintenance and loss of biodiversity. In Global biodiversity assessment, eds. V.H. Heywood, R. Barbault and S. Sastrapradja, 232–245. Cambridge University Press.

Lawton, J.H., and R.M. May (eds.). 1995. Extinction rates. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Alroy, J. 2008. Dynamics of origination and extinction in the marine fossil record. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105(S1): 11536–11542.


One thought on “Maintaining Biodiversity and Feeding the World: Can it be done?

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful post. One answer to the linked problems of under-nutrition and biodiversity loss increasing yields from urban agriculture.

    In the industrial agricultural system, it takes ten calories of energy from petroleum and petroleum-based products to produce one calorie of food. The practice of monocropping, for example, requires huge inputs of fertilizer. This system also creates a drastically simplified ecosystem (corn, water, and fertilizer instead of corn, water, squash, runner beans, pollinating animals, and soil microbes). Such ecosystems are not resilient.

    Urban agriculture could increase biodiversity within city limits, reduce or eliminate GHG emissions from food transportation, and, since small-scale agriculture is easier to do organically, also reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers. I know that this is hard to do in informal housing areas (like favelas), and especially hard for folks without homes. These communities are where fresh, cheap food is badly needed to combat hunger. Pro-poor urban agriculture policies are, in my view, the way to go.

    Check out Fresh City Farms for a Toronto option:

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