Experts at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew have just published their second ever State of the World’s Plants report. They reveal there are 390,000 known species of plants, with over 30,000 being used by humans. Unfortunately, the report also says that 1 in 5 plant species are in danger of extinction.
“Plants are absolutely fundamental to humankind. Plants provide us with everything – food, fuel, medicines, timber and they are incredibly important for our climate regulation. Without plants we would not be here. We are facing some devastating realities if we do not take stock and re-examine our priorities and efforts.” said Prof. Kathy Willis, director of science at Kew.
The biggest driving factor behind plant extinction is loss of habitat. Loss of habitat is caused by farming, deforestation and infrastructure expansion. Climate change isn’t currently a major contributor, but the report warns that it will have a dramatic impact on plants within the next 30 years.
On a positive note, new scientific discoveries offer hope. “I find that really encouraging and exciting. We are still finding new species of trees, new species of food: five new species of onion were found last year, for example.” says Prof. Willis.
She went on to say, “There are huge areas of the world where we just don’t know what is growing there. They may hold the key to the future of food. Genetic diversity in our foods is becoming poorer and poorer.”
The report references the global challenges of “population size, land-use change, plant diseases and pests” and says preserving biodiversity is urgent, as well as finding and conserving wild relatives of crops.
Major agriculture companies like Monsanto put world food security in jeopardy by propagating homogenous crops, known as “mono-cropping”. This is in contradiction with natural evolutionary processes which promote strong diverse crops with area-specific defenses and characteristics.
“As the global population rises and the pressure increases on our global food system, so does our dependence on the global crops and production systems that feed us. The price of failure of any of these crops will become very high.” says Luigi Guarino, senior scientist at the Global Crop Diversity Trust.
According to the report, “Having access to this large and diverse genetic pool is essential if we are to furnish crops with the valuable traits that enable resilience to climate change, pests and diseases, and ultimately underpin global food security.”
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