Knowledge for Development

Towards a globalized diet: more food, less diversity, more associated risks


Date: 13/05/2014


This comprehensive study by Colin Khoury of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and co-authors from related research institutes provides evidence of change in the relative importance of different crop plants in national food supplies worldwide over the past 50 years. This study of the global food supply thoroughly documents and confirms for the first time what experts have long suspected: over the last five decades, human diets around the world have grown ever more similar – by a global average of 36 % – and the trend shows no signs of slowing, with major consequences for human nutrition and global food security. The study suggests that growing reliance on a few food crops may also accelerate the worldwide rise in obesity, heart disease and diabetes, which are strongly affected by dietary change and have become major health problems. Many crops of considerable regional importance – including cereals like sorghum, millets and rye, as well as root crops such as sweet potato, cassava and yam – have lost ground. Many other locally significant grain and vegetable crops – for which globally comparable data are not available – have suffered the same fate. Another danger of a more homogeneous global food basket is that it makes agriculture more vulnerable to major threats like drought, insect pests and diseases, which are likely to become worse in many parts of the world as a result of climate change.   

Editor’s note – Can the research and policy communities afford not to consider the globalization of diets and the reliance on fewer crops in more depth? The implications for the future of food and nutrition security are far reaching, both for the economies and natural environment. Similar research effort should be extended to livestock – see for example Patterson’s article. A few weeks ago I read that Chinese researchers have begun to consider the implications for food and farming of the loss of indigenous genetic resources which are more resilient.  

Other relevant information on this subject: Press release,  CIAT News, Round-up and an article in CrossMark Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security.

(CIAT, 29/01/2014)