More Similar Human Diets Signal Demise of Local Crops, Study Shows

Increasing reliance on a short list of staple crops could increase vulnerability to drought, pest threats

Published on: Mar 18, 2014

"In East and Southeast Asia, several major foods—like wheat and potato—have gained importance alongside longstanding staples, like rice," Khoury noted. "But this expansion of major staple foods has come at the expense of the many diverse minor foods that used to figure importantly in people's diets."

Economic drivers
Rising incomes in developing countries can drive dietary changes, study authors explain, enabling more animal product, oil and sugar consumption. Urbanization also has encouraged greater consumption of processed and fast foods.

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Related developments, including trade liberalization, improved commodity transport, multinational food industries, and food safety standardization have further reinforced these trends, the study says.

"Countries experiencing rapid dietary change are also quickly seeing rises in the associated diseases of overabundance," said Khoury. "But hopeful trends are also apparent, as in Northern Europe, where evidence suggests that consumers are tending to buy more cereals and vegetables and less meat, oil and sugar."

The researchers single out five actions that are needed to foster diversity in food production and consumption and thus improve nutrition and food security:

• Promote adoption of a wider range of varieties of the major crops worldwide. This could boost genetic diversity, reducing the vulnerability of the global food system.

• Support the conservation and use of diverse plant genetic resources

• Enhance the nutritional quality of the major crops through crop breeding; make supplementary vitamins and other nutrient sources more widely available.

• Promote alternative crops that can boost the resilience of farming and make human diets healthier through research aimed at making these crops more competitive in markets.

• Foster public awareness of the need for healthier diets, based on better decisions about what and how much we eat as well as the forms in which we consume food.

Read the complete study, "Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security."