22 May 2019

Our food, our health

On International Day for Biological Diversity, find out how Kew is conserving biodiversity to transform food systems and improve human health.

Variety of beans in sacks

Our biodiversity is disappearing faster now than at any time in the past. In the coming months, scientists from around the world will be meeting to assess the achievements of biodiversity related goals and establish new targets in preparation for the next UN Biodiversity Conference which will be held in China in late 2020.

For humanity and all life on Earth to continue to thrive, the conservation of biodiversity is a critical challenge and Kew’s scientific expertise is crucial. 

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

Powered by knowledge generated from its vast collections and databases, Kew has been enthusiastically working towards the achievement of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) including the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC). Botanical institutes worldwide have played a vital role in implementing the GSPC. Kew, and its partners, have contributed to preventing the loss of plant species including those that produce the food we eat. 

Our work is underpinned by rigorous science and aims to ensure that current socio-economic development is compatible with healthy ecosystems upon which the production of our food crops so completely rely. We recognise that realistic solutions need to be developed and implemented across all sectors of society. 
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework for global actions to safeguard all our futures. Our work contributes to the achievement of:

  • SDG 1: no poverty 
  • SDG 2: zero hunger 
  • SDG 3: good health and well-being
  • SDG 12: responsible consumption and production
  • SDG 13: climate action
  • SDG 15: life on land

All are equally important to preserving biodiversity; the climate and human well-being are inextricably connected.

Tiles of the SDGs that Kew contributes to

Finding solutions

Kew is actively engaged with research on pollination, seed dispersal, and locating and securing plant species closely related to current domestic crops (known as crop wild relatives). 

In the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership we focus and prioritise our research and seed, specimen and data collection on useful plants – including those used for food and health purposes. We aim to support the sustainable use of seed collections for conservation, agriculture and forestry, by determining seed germination and seedling establishment under various climate scenarios.

Other projects aim to conserve and sustainably use wild plants that are important for rural communities, particularly in Africa, and which may have potential as alternative food crops globally. Restoration projects provide habitat for natural pest predators and enable insecticide free farming. Similarly, the expertise at Kew in plant propagation is used to support production of wild useful plants for improving livelihoods. Collections of crop wild relatives also provide a source of pest resilient plants closely related to key production crop species potentially proving vital in a changing climate.

Yams harvesting in Madagascar
Harvesting yams in Madagascar. Credit RBG Kew.
A scientist inspects specimens in the Millennium Seed Bank collection
The Millennium Seed Bank safeguards wild plant diversity. Credit RBG Kew.

If we don’t tackle global challenges soon, they will get much worse. More species will become extinct and less ecosystem services will be provided. Ultimately ecosystems could collapse, and human health and well-being will be threatened. Changes in the climate may flood large areas of cropland, and temperature and rainfall changes may cause crops to be unsuitable.

The survival of many thousands of species of plants, animals and fungi is under threat. Kew is finding solutions to prevent this from happening.

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