Diversity and homogeneity in agriculture around the world

sunflower farm

Aerial view of a sunflower farm. Photo by Flickr user Milan Andric [mandric], used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Last week NPR’s Dan Charles reported on rising uniformity in world agriculture. As he details,

Increasingly, there’s a standard global diet, and the human race is depending more and more on a handful of major crops for much of its food….

[Authors of a new study] uncovered two big trends.

The first: “Hey, actually, there’s places where diets are diversifying, where they’re adding crops,” says [researcher Colin] Khoury.

In parts of Asia, such as China, rice is a declining portion of the average person’s diet as they add other foods that are now more available. In the U.S., meanwhile, people are eating more imported foods, like mangoes and coconut water.

But here’s the second discovery: Those bigger menus of food also are getting more and more similar to each other, from Nanjing to Nairobi. Everybody is relying more and more heavily on a few dozen global megafoods.

Many of those foods are part of what you’d call a standard Western diet, including wheat, potatoes and dairy. But other megacrops come from the tropics, such as palm oil….

Smaller crops, meanwhile, are getting pushed aside. Sorghum and millet, for instance, are grown quite widely around the world, but they’re losing out to corn and soybeans. Other small crops that you only find in certain areas could disappear altogether.

Check out audio and text versions of the story (as well as links) here.

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