Experts have found that the planet’s sixth mass extinction event , which is already happening, is threatening more than the wild animals we usually think of as endangered species; it’s also seriously endangering food supplies around the world. The findings are presented in a new report from Bioversity International. “Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply are just as endangered [as wildlife] and are getting almost no attention,” Bioversity International director general Ann Tutwiler told The Guardian . “If there is one thing we cannot allow to become extinct, it is the species that provide the food that sustains each and every one of the seven billion people on our planet.” The variety of foodstuffs on our planet is known as “agrobiodiversity,” and it’s a precious resource that we are already losing. “[Agrobiodiversity] can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing,” Tutwiler added. “It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change.” Today, about 75 percent of the global food supply comes from a mere 12 crops and five species of animal. According to the Bioversity International report, investment in high-yielding starchy staples has led to just three–rice, maize, and wheat–providing half of the world’s plant-based calories, despite the fact that between 5,000 and 70,000 plant species have been documented as human food. This lack of agrobiodiversity means that food supplies worldwide are very vulnerable to pests and disease, which can move quickly through large monoculture regions. This is exactly what triggered the Irish potato famine, an even which caused one million people to starve to death. Climate change and carbon emissions are also a threat, as they will cut yields of these few strains that the world is so reliant upon, even as the global population continues to rise. Tens of thousands of rarely cultivated and wild species exist, offering a variety of foods that are nutritious, tolerant to a changing climate, and resistant to disease.

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