Wednesday, 10 May 2023 15:10

Unceasing Human Attacks on the Source of 80% of Food, 98% of Oxygen

Several human-caused threats lay behind the current annual loss of up to 40% of food crops globally, mainly due to plant pests and the introduction of alien species. Credit: Jency Samuel/IPS


ROME, May 10 (IPS) — Two big facts are impressive enough: plants are the source of 80% of all food, and as much as 98% of all oxygen. Logically, it would be taken for granted that human beings would do whatever is needed to protect this essential source of life. But do they?



Not at all. Rather the whole contrary.


Several human-caused threats lay behind the current annual loss of up to 40% of food crops globally, mainly due to plant pests and the introduction of alien species.


Among them stands the massive international travel and trade business, which has been associated with the introduction and spread of so many pests.


Indeed, world trade hit a record 32 trillion US dollars in 2022, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).


Being such a highly profitable business, it continues to bring thousands of alien species that silently but relentlessly invade – and colonise – the whole Planet Earth.


The ‘White Sea’ and the Black Sea, invaded, colonised


Just know that over 1.000 alien species have already taken over the Mediterranean Sea (popularly known in Arabic as the ‘White Sea’) and the Black Sea.


But these two seas are no exception. All of the world’s seas are already occupied by aliens. And anyway this is not the case of seas only: also all the Planet’s lands and air are highly infected.


Such an alien invasion is extremely dangerous to native species, much so that it is changing the nature of the waters and the lands of these two nearly closed seas.


Aliens on board


“They are non-indigenous fish, jellyfish, prawns, algae and many other marine and not marine species, most of them are being brought by human activities such as giant cargo ships, oil tankers, touristic cruisers, and even medium and small fishing boats,” reliable data show in a recent UN report.


The Mediterranean Sea ranks high on the list of the world’s most trafficked waters.


Did you know that more than 2.000 cargo ships, oil tankers, cruisers, cross the Mediterranean Sea at any given moment?


Over half of those alien species have established permanent populations and are spreading, causing concern about the threat they pose to marine ecosystems and local fishing communities, reports the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


No wonder then that this sea is undergoing a “tropicalisation” process as water temperatures rise, largely due to climate change, the UN warns.


Where from and who is bringing them?


Many species have migrated via well-travelled Mediterranean shipping routes such as the Strait of Gibraltar or the Suez Canal, often attached to the hull of ships or inside them in the ballast waters, explains FAO.


Other species, such as the Pacific cupped oyster and the Japanese carpet shell, were introduced for aquaculture during the 1960s and 1970s and have since escaped and colonised Mediterranean ecosystems.


Number of aliens on the rise


In other words, “Invasive species are changing the nature of the Mediterranean Sea,” the world’s body warns.


Stefano Lelli, a fishery expert for the Eastern Mediterranean working for the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, knows about that. “Climate change and human activities have had a profound impact on the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.”


According to Lelli, “We have witnessed a swift and significant alteration of marine ecosystems, which has led to several impacts on local communities livelihoods. In the coming years, we expect the number of non-indigenous species to continue rising.”


Once established, non-indigenous species can outcompete native ones and alter their surrounding ecosystems, with potential economic implications for fisheries and tourism or even human health, says the FAO report.


Massive unsustainable tourism


Add to this the massive, often unsustainable tourism business, and travels by air and ships –both among the main causes of climate emergency–, and the many other invasive pest species that are also associated with rising temperatures which create new niches for pests to populate and spread.


Did you know that the Mediterranean Sea is by far the largest global tourism destination?


Simply, it attracts almost a third of the world’s international tourists (one billion a year), generating more than one-fourth of all international tourism receipts (200 out of 750 billion euros, or about 230 out of 800 billion US dollars).


No wonder then that it is one of the most infected basins by pests and alien species.


What is the reaction to the loss of 40% of food crops globally?


Instead of reacting swiftly to repair all these damages and avoid further ones, human activities resort to the intensive use and misuse of pesticides, which harm pollinators, natural pest enemies and organisms crucial for a healthy environment, warns FAO.


“Yet, plant health is increasingly at risk. Plant pests are responsible for the annual loss of up to 40 percent of food crops globally. This is especially relevant to the millions of smallholder farmers and people in rural communities who rely on agriculture as a primary source of income and see their livelihoods at risk.”


Humans continue to alter ecosystems, reduce biodiversity…


The climate crisis and unsustainable human activities are altering ecosystems, reducing biodiversity and creating new niches for invasive pests to thrive.


Concurrently, international travel and trade that can unintentionally spread pests and diseases rapidly around the world have tripled in volume over the last decade, causing great damage to native plants and the environment.


In view of all the above, no surprise that the UN has declared an International Day of Plant Health, which is observed each year on 12 May, to raise global awareness of how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect biodiversity and the environment, and boost economic development.


Until when -and how far- will human avidity continue to destroy the very source of life on Planet Earth?