Where in the world does our food come from? Virtually all of the foods we eat – our major crops and most livestock species – have their origins in the tropics and subtropics of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The term “centres of origin” refers to the geographic areas where crops and livestock were first domesticated.
Centres of origin are also hotspots of cultural diversity. Over millennia farmers and livestock keepers in these regions painstakingly selected and bred thousands of genetically distinct plants and animal breeds suited to their needs and environment. Scientists have identified at least twelve major geographic “centres of diversity” – regions that harbour a disproportionately high percentage of all plant and livestock diversity.
Over time, as crops and livestock spread, many plants and animals were domesticated by different farming cultures in more than one location. As a result, many crops and livestock species have more than one centre of diversity. Our farming ancestors are responsible for the priceless genetic variability that we depend on to breed resistance to new pests and diseases, and to survive climate extremes. Today, all of us depend on crop and livestock diversity that originated elsewhere, but most agricultural biodiversity is still concentrated in the global South.