The world has more than 50,000 edible plants. But 90% of the world’s energy demands are fulfilled by just 15 crops, according to estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. About two-thirds of our calorie intake is provided by three: rice, maize (corn) and wheat.
Only a few of the many varieties of potato are commercially grown; others are heirlooms.
Dependency on a handful of crops is problematic. In cultivating countless generations of a few staples, we have inadvertently lost some of their most valuable properties. Modern crops are susceptible to changing climatic conditions, for example, and are heavily affected by pests, which can claim 30–40% of global production of staple crops such as maize, rice and potatoes1 and call for ever-stronger pesticides.
The nutritional content of what we grow is also declining.