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Sustainability Quiz 13: Monoculture Farming

Sustainability Quiz 13: Monoculture Farming

Sustainability Quiz 13. Monoculture farming. How many plant species provide 3/4 of our food?

Monoculture is how we farm. It is the practise of farming a single variety of product in big paddocks. Instinctively, most of us would understand it is how we grow food, without necessarily knowing what it is called. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations - who work to support family faming around the world - estimates that there are actually around a quarter million plant varieties available for agriculture, but less than 3 percent of these are in use today.

Modern agriculture means the world’s food supply depends on about 150 plant species. Of those, how many provide ¾ of all food?

Single crops streamline supply, but also expose it

Mass produced food creates all kinds of collective economies of scale and supply - to the point where more than half of the world’s food energy comes from a limited number of varieties of three mega-crops - rice, wheat, and corn. Sorghum, millet, potatoes, sweet potatoes, soybean and sugar provide another 25 percent.

On the other hand, setting aside the obvious supply chain issues, single crop farms mean large allotments of land are cleared for farming and generally farmed intensively. This often results in in soil degradation, reduced local and regional biodiversity and issues with pest management.

A heating world is an issue for monoculture

As the planet heats and temperatures shift in different parts of the world, the suitability for some crops in certain regions is changing. As an example, a recent study into the wine and grape industry published in The Harvard Gazette noted that diversity in grape crops had reached only 12 main varieties across the world. These 12 varieties supply 80 percent of the global wine market, despite the fact that thousands of varieties have existed since Roman times. Many of those grapes won't be suitable for the warmer climates in which they grow, and crops will fail more often.

What can you do?

Shop local, seasonal and organic. Farm gates and farmers’ markets are an excellent way to source local foods and locals. Get to know the people behind your food and what practices your money goes to support. Growing your own herb basics is easy. Fruit trees are also easy to grow if you plant local varieties. As are many veggies. 


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