Most of our “natural“ landscapes are not natural at all: they have actually been shaped by humans over the course of centuries. In order to cultivate crops over ever larger areas, humans have cleared vast expanses of forest and turned plains into fields and pastures. In time, many wild species have adapted to these landscapes, resulting in the development of ecosystems modified by humans and teeming with life. Agriculture has thus fostered biodiversity.
Agricultural land is surrounded by semi-wild habitats such as pastures, prairies, and hedgerows which are home to large numbers of animals and plants, sometimes as many as, or even more than, those found in certain natural ecosystems. These habitats even support numerous endangered species: across the cultivated fields of Europe, three in four mammals, two in three birds, and almost one in two butterflies live in the hedgerows.
But modern agriculture now plays an opposing role. The homogenization of crops and practices has caused heavy losses in domestic biodiversity: in the course of a century, three quarters of the plant varieties created by humans over millennia have disappeared. Today, 90% of the world’s agricultural production has been reduced to around thirty plant species and fourteen animal species. This loss of domestic biodiversity weakens our resources and places global food security under threat. Moreover, the synchronization of farming activities (dates for harvesting, plowing, etc.), the disappearance of semi-wild habitats, and the extensive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides are seriously harming the flora and fauna which live in the fields and surrounding areas.
There are many ways to protect this biodiversity, one of which is championed by movements such as Slow Food, whose goal is to help people rediscover the taste of good food and different products. “Defend biodiversity by eating it,” say its supporters. In effect, encouraging smallholders to cultivate or breed original varieties is a means of assuring their continued survival. It also promotes a varied, and therefore healthy, diet.