It seems like the whole world is growing smaller, and that could be a problem for the agriculture industry.

A new study by the Natural Academy of Science reveals that the future of food is a little more uncertain than scientists previously thought. The study shows that in the past 50 years, much of the world has adjusted its diet to a fairly similar combination of ingredients.

The list includes “wheat, rice, maize, and potato but also more recent ones like soybean, sunflower oil and palm oil,” according to the International Center for Tropical Agriculture. “Many local crops that used to be important in Africa or Asia such as sorghum, millet, rye, sweet potato, cassava, and yam are failing to keep up.”

Photo: PNAS

As the entire world comes to rely on a small group of “mega-foods,” the agricultural concern grows. Imagine a hypothetical future where some sort of disaster takes out that year’s wheat crop entirely. The world would fall into famine, because everyone depends on it.

Luigi Guarin, a member of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, tells the BBC

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…As the global population rises and the pressure increases on our global food system, so does our dependence on the global crops and production system that feeds us.

NPR’s The Salt proposes a return to heritage grains, utilized in new and exciting ways. Just as wheat is special by virtue of its use in breads and pies, some enterprising mind can find a use for bulgur, farro, and quinoa.

Anyone for quinoa beer?

[via NPR, BBC]