Crop Species Loss Over Last 100 Years (Tremendous)

I ran across the graphic below on my sister’s tumblr blog this weekend and, though I already knew crop species loss was pretty dramatic, I found it to be quite shocking (click on the image to enlarge it).

If you can’t read the graphic, the key points are:

In 1903 commercial seed houses offered hundreds of varieties, as shown in this sampling of ten crops.

By 1983 few of those varieties were found in the National Seed Storage Laboratory.

Tracing the graphic back to National Geographic led me to a good short paragraph from them on the problem and where the data used in this graphic came from:

As we’ve come to depend on a handful of commercial varieties of fruits and vegetables, thousands of heirloom varieties have disappeared. It’s hard to know exactly how many have been lost over the past century, but a study conducted in 1983 by the Rural Advancement Foundation International gave a clue to the scope of the problem. It compared USDA listings of seed varieties sold by commercial U.S. seed houses in 1903 with those in the U.S. National Seed Storage Laboratory in 1983. The survey, which included 66 crops, found that about 93 percent of the varieties had gone extinct. More up-to-date studies are needed.

Yes, more studies are needed, but I think it’s pretty obvious to everyone who looks at this graphic that we are quickly depleting our biodiversity and the variety of foods we eat.

This is probably a result of some of the same things that are causing our endangered plant species list to grow more and more every year (i.e. habitat loss from human development and global warming), but it is also clearly due to our country’s (and others’) conscious decision to let monoculture agribusiness giants provide us with the majority of our food.

What can you do to help the situation? I’ll repeat some of the things I wrote in my endangered plants post:

  1. Grow your own food as much as possible, buy local as much as possible…;
  2. Help prevent global warming from escalating by greening your transportgreening your diet, and cutting the coal;
  3. Urge leading supermarkets and restaurants to not buy products related to deforestation or habitat destruction (and don’t buy products related to such things).

And, I’ll add, urge your local supermarkets to buy heirloom products from local farmers.


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