Why Bringing Forgotten Foods Back to the Table?

Published on: May 27, 2022Citizen Entrepreneurship Competition
Entrepreneurship Campus

By Entrepreneurship Campus

Why Bringing Forgotten Foods Back to the Table?

Twelve plant crops and five animals make up 75 percent of the world’s food. This fact from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) sheds a light on what’s possibly wrong with the main global food systems. They’re not resilient, diverse, nutritious, sustainable, inclusive, equitable, empowering, and a lot of other important things.

Food departments in your local store might look colorful and full of diverse options, yet the truth is that wheat, sugarcane, corn, soy, potatoes, palm oil, cassava, rice, sweet potatoes, sorghum, millet, and groundnuts are in the majority of the food products you’re being offered to buy and consume. Translated to numbers, this means that about 61 food calories come from the above-mentioned crops.
The remaining 14 percent comes from cattle, pigs, chickens, buffalos, and goats.

Meanwhile, scientists agree that there are over 20,000 edible plants all over the world. Still, diets remain limited. Only hundreds of plants are widely cultivated for food purposes, with wheat, maize, and rice being the top three.

When cheap food becomes highly expensive

One can normally wonder, what happened to the other food sources from plants and animals? They are still cultivated and consumed, but they are never made to enter mass consumption. Farmers, who need to maximize their profits opt for the most profitable crops and livestock. Moreover, there’s also another important factor why wheat, rice, and corn are the world's most important crops. They are all wind-pollinated. The pollen produced by these plants doesn’t attract insects. Their flowers don’t have a scent or strong colors while the nutritional value of their pollen is low for many insects. Pollinators would turn to those flowers only when there’s a scarcity of pollen.

So if farmers cultivate crops that guarantee high yields, why there are still people that cannot afford a healthy diet?
That’s one of the downsides of the current agricultural systems, which value quantity over quality. Not to forget how much of the produced food goes to waste.

Reliance on a limited number of plant crops is risky. For example, the recent war in Ukraine is increasing food insecurity and pressure in countries in Africa and in the Middle East that are heavily dependent on wheat imports from Ukraine and Russia.
Further on, diseases and pest outbreaks, and climate change are two other ongoing risks that widely cultivated plant species face. History has shown that reliance on a limited number of food resources can result in food crises and famines.
Monoculture farming whether it's plant crops or livestock might provide farmers with higher yields at lower costs, but it affects the environment in several negative ways. These include soil degradation, use of harmful chemicals, groundwater pollution, alterations to the natural ecosystem, heavy use of water and fossil fuel inputs, etc.

Examples of monoculture farming disasters

The Irish potato farming in 1845

The Aral Sea cotton farming disaster

Queensland and Uganda banana and sugar cane crops lost in natural disaster

The soy destruction of forests in Argentina

Rice irrigation and landslides in Indonesia

These and many other crises have shown that existing food systems are fragile and inflexible. How to fix it? There are various solutions that include regenerative agriculture, local food systems, empowered farmers, etc.

Going back to agrobiodiversity

What was there before monoculture farming? In the majority of cases, mono-species farms were developed on biodiverse landscapes. Such agricultural practices would fall under agrobiodiversity.
Agrobiodiversity is the result of the interaction between the environment, genetic resources and management systems and practices used by culturally diverse peoples, and therefore land and water resources are used for production in different ways.”

These local and diverse food production systems are under threat. Not only harvested species risk disappearance, but also the local food knowledge, skills, and culture of women and men farmers. According to FAO, more than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared from farms, half of the breeds of many domestic animals have been lost, and fishing grounds are being fished over their sustainable limits.

At the same time, the loss of forests and other wild areas poses a high risk to agrobiodiversity and to the people that depend on them as the main wild food sources.
For many poor people all over the world, healthy diets depend on the food that they can grow locally or find in the wild. The loss of their agrobiodiversity for the sake of monoculture farming would provide them with less nutritional food that seems to be cheap, but comes with a higher expense bill in the long term.

What are some healthy foods in your area that farmers don’t cultivate massively? Is it possible to save them and all the knowledge related to their cultivation? Could you think about a business idea that focuses on local and circular food systems, that empowers farmers and reduce independence from imports?

Submit your solutions to the Citizen Entrepreneurship Competition 2022 and take the opportunity to develop your entrepreneurial mindset with our free online training.


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