German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


Agricultural Biodiversity

Huge diversity of vegetables
Huge diversity of vegetables

Agricultural biodiversity comprises all components of biodiversity important to food and agriculture. This includes all biodiversity in farming landscapes, not just farm animals and crop plants.Agricultural biodiversity thus takes in the genetic resources of crop varieties and farmed animal breeds (including fish) together with undomesticated (wild) resources in field, woodland, pasture and aquatic ecosystems, together with elements of biological diversity that secure ecosystem services such as the nutrient cycle, crop pest and disease regulation, pollination, conservation of local wildlife, protection of water resources, prevention of erosion, climate regulation and carbon fixation.

Genetical diversity of farm animals - free range of pigs. Photo: Dominic Menzler, Copyright BfN
Free range of pigs.
Copyright: pixabay

The organisms referred to are used in farming, forestry and fishing in cultivation systems that in various ways and to varying degrees are integrated with natural ecosystems. Cultivated organisms interact with organisms in these natural ecosystems and depend on them to produce their output. Dependencies of this kind include soil fertility provided by soil organisms, pests being reduced by natural enemies and plants being pollinated by insects.

Agricultural biodiversity goes hand in hand with variety in farming and production practices, because unlike biodiversity in general, many components of agricultural biodiversity critically depend on human activity. Whatever is not actively used – cultivated, held, processed, sold, eaten, etc. – is ultimately threatened with extinction.

Rich agricultural biodiversity is the basis of tomorrow’s food supply, as it equates to a larger gene pool available for use. Concentrating on few high-output breeds, species or varieties harbours a risk of declining yields, for example due to loss of disease resistance or environmental tolerance, or due to the danger of inbreeding depression (decreasing vitality, fertility or fitness). Loss of genetic diversity means an irretrievable loss of future breeding options. This hinders adaptation to unforeseeable disease risks or to environmental variations like climate change. It also constitutes a loss of cultural heritage.

Loss of agricultural biodiversity

There are some 340,000 plant species worldwide. Of these, about 30,000 are considered potentially useful to humankind and around 7,000 are actually used or cultivated today. The number of cultivated plant species and particularly cultivated varieties has dropped sharply since the 1800s. Only about 150 species now play a major part in human nutrition. Nearly the whole calorie intake of the world’s population today comes from just 30 plant species, which supply 95 percent of vegetable food. Harvests of only three main crops – wheat, rice and maize – meet 50 percent of global human energy needs.

Sheepdog herding the sheep flog. Photo: Andreas Kärcher, Copyright BfN
Sheepdog herding the sheep flog.

Industrialised nations like Germany have all but ceased cultivating traditional crop varieties. Gene erosion in such varieties is estimated at 90 percent since 1900. The picture for farm animals is similar. No fewer than 1,000 out of 6,500 recognised breeds have died out in the last hundred years.

Loss of Agrobiodiversity through intensification, here: field of sugar beet. Photo: Sabine Stein, Copyright BfN
Field of sugar beet

There are many reasons for the decline in agricultural biodiversity. With intensification, rationalisation, specialisation and concentration of production, modern farming has had a major part in the loss of biodiversity in both cultivated and wild plants in Germany. These biodiversity losses came through changes in fertilisation, pest and disease control, crop rotation and field consolidation. Modern farming methods and the use of a small number of high-performance varieties have a particularly severe impact. Traditional varieties are often not subject to intellectual property protection or such protection has expired, which means they cannot be commercially traded. This considerably restricts the exchange of seeds and the necessary improvement of varieties through breeding. Besides plant variety protection, compliance with production standards and adherence to quality management systems leads to standardisation of cultivated varieties and farming methods.


Conservation of agricultural diversity is funded under agri-environmental measures. Agricultural holdings that perform in-situ (in the natural surroundings) or on-farm conservation (on ordinary farms or breed and variety conservation farms, in open-air museums, etc.) can take part in agri-environmental programmes run by the individual German Länder.


"Agrobiodiversität entwickeln", Verbundprojekt 

EU-Aktionsprogramm zu genetischen Ressourcen der Landwirtschaft

FAO zu Biodiversität in Ernährung und Landwirtschaft

Gesellschaft zur Erhaltung alter und gefährdeter Haustierrassen e.V. (GEH)

Informationssystem genetische Ressourcen der Bundesanstalt für Landwirtschaft und Ernährung (BLE) 

Verein zur Erhaltung der Nutzpflanzenvielfalt e.V. (VEN)


Nationale Strategie zur biologischen Vielfalt

Indikatorenbericht 2010

Last Change: 09/04/2018