Thousands of genetically distinct varieties of our major food crops resulted from careful selection and breeding by farmers – past and present. All major food crops have their origins in the tropics and subtropics of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The term “centres of origin” refers to the regions where farming communities first domesticated crops some 10,000–12,000 years ago.
Today, crop genetic diversity is still concentrated in “centres of diversity.” Over millennia, most of our food crops underwent multiple domestication events in more than one region. As a result, many food crops have more than one centre of diversity.
FAO estimates that about 75 per cent of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost – primarily due to the introduction of commercial, uniform varieties that are replacing traditional ones. While only about 150 food plants are significant in world trade, an estimated 80,000 species are of commercial interest, with half of those plants being edible and at least 5,000 eaten globally.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2010, October 26). The Second Report on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources. Retrieved from fao.org
- ETC Group. (2009). Who Will Feed Us? Retrieved from etcgroup.org
- Shand, H. (1993). Harvesting nature’s diversity. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations. Retrieved from fao.org
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2010, October 26). Crop biodiversity: use it or lose it. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations. Retrieved from fao.org
- Fowler, C. & Mooney, P. (1990). Shattering: Food, Politics, and the Loss of Genetic Diversity. University of Arizona Press.
- Nabhan, G. (2009). Where Our Food Comes From. Island Press.
- Photo: Vavilov Centers of Origin Map. Retrieved from ars.els-cdn.com
- Nabhan, Gary. (2009, September 2008). Where does our food come from. [Video File]. Retrieved from youtube.com