Disappearing foods

Cuisitive celebrates and promotes the world’s food ingredients. However, food diversity significantly diminished during the last century and continues to be subject to ongoing threats and challenges.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, as far back as 1999, advised that since the start of the C20th century some 75 percent of plant genetic diversity had been lost as farmers worldwide had left their multiple local varieties and landraces for genetically uniform, high-yielding varieties.

The Slow Food Foundation (SFF) reported in 2014 that of the 30,000* species of edible plants remaining in the world no more no more than 150 were widely cultivated.

* some sources state that the number could be as high as 80,000 or even 250,000.

The SFF advised that 50 crops provided 90% of the world’s calories (around 50 years ago several thousand plants would have done so). Furthermore, it was estimated that 9 crops accounted for 75% of the plant kingdom’s contribution to human dietary energy and that 3 species, rice, maize and wheat provided more than 60% of the world’s food.

Across the world the nation’s diets continue to converge with local foods disappearing; for example, varieties of sorghum, millet, rye, cassava and yam are in decline and are being replaced by wheat, corn, soybean and sunflower.

Some 30,000 varieties of rice were once grown in India; now less than 10  varieties account for more than 75% of production. Commercial factors limit the availability of diversity.  While there are more than 1,000 banana varieties in the world one variety – the Cavendish – accounts for 95 per cent of the global banana export market.Similarly four commercial varieties of apples – Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Gala and Granny Smith – currently make up 90 per cent of the world market and of the 2,500 types of pears that were grown in the past, just two account for 96% of the market.

Similarly in animal husbandry a small number of high-performance breeds have spread throughout the world since the C20th often replacing local breeds. These include Rhode Island Red and Leghorn chickens, Large White, Duroc and Landrace pigs, Saanen goats and Holstein Friesian and Jersey cattle.

In 2016 the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems  reported that globally between 2001 and 2007 one breed of livestock had indeed become extinct each month and that 20% of breeds remained at risk of extinction. A series of articles will be posted over forthcoming weeks featuring  ‘lost’ ingredients and those that are under threat of disappearing.