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by Biodiversity Intern Alaine Janosy

If everyone looked, dressed, acted, and thought exactly the same, the world would be a pretty dull, bland place to live; diversity keeps things interesting. Human beings like to have choices in all aspects of life; from our mobile phone to our shampoo, we are presented with hundreds, if not thousands, of options and we are able to exercise our free will to determine which option suits us best.

Although we rarely think about it, we exercise this same free will every time we make a decision about what to eat. Eating is something all of us do multiple times every day, whether it be alone or with friends, at home or at a restaurant, we must eat to survive. Humans thrive when they consume a diverse diet comprised of the many plant and animal species we share the planet with, but that diverse diet that keeps us happy, since we like to have choices, and healthy, since we cannot get everything we need from a single source, is threatened. A combination of various factors, including climate change, and the commercialization of agriculture on a global scale, has resulted in this worldwide loss of variety. This decrease in biodiversity not only makes mealtime dull, but also, more significantly, it makes the world food supply more vulnerable to disease and less adaptable to changes in climate or population growth.

Steps are currently being taken on a global level to reverse this seemingly unstoppable course toward bio-uniformity. A new $116 million fund was established this summer when members of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) met in June. The fund will pay the 11 communities around the world, chosen based on the crops they grow, to continue farming these threatened crops thereby helping to maintain diversity in our food system. The money will provide the compensation necessary to prevent these farmers from switching to more commercially successful, and therefore more profitable, crops. Although on a much smaller scale, Slow Food USA and partners in the project to save an apple, a strawberry or a rare potato, they are making a difference.

Currently, the United States is not a signatory of the treaty, but signing is under consideration. As one of the richest nations in the world, the United States would send a strong message about its commitment to maintaining the health of people and the planet by signing this treaty and committing funds to both this and future initiatives agreed upon by treaty countries. Then again, an equally strong message would be sent should the United States choose to remain aloof.