The Food Studies Master’s Program welcomed two officials from Bioversity International, Senior Scientist, Danny Hunter, and Director of Strategic Partnerships and External Engagement, Richard China, on Monday September 5th. Dovetailing with the program’s Food, Environment and Society course, taught by the Dean of Graduate Studies, Dr. Maria Grazia Quieti, Hunter engaged the twenty students in AUR’s Food Studies Master’s Program with a presentation and discussion about the definition, implications, and preservation of agricultural biodiversity.

Students spent the morning investigating the interconnectivity of every part of the food agrosystem, from the macro (the rise of monoculture) to the micro (the importance of cultivating and preserving diverse soil mycology.) To begin, Hunter broke the class up into four groups, by having each student select a seed from a small, woven Persian coin pouch. Team Wrinkly Brown Chickpea, Team Giant White Bean, and so on then gathered together to answer two fundamental questions: What is agricultural biodiversity? And why is it important?

The diversity of backgrounds and experience within the student body is so varied, that every facet of the food agrosystem seemed to be touched upon. It quickly became clear that the definition of the work done at Bioversity International lies somewhere within the interactions between a plethora of factors: water, pests, plant genetics, animal diversity, wild plants, fish farming, conservation of indigenous knowledge through preserving farming techniques and recipes, and the moral and ethical dilemma of allowing varieties of plants to fade into extinction, just to name a few.

After discussing how essential sustainable production of food is, and how integral the ecological services provided by agroecosystems are to that production, the class turned to the question of how agricultural biodiversity can be monitored, managed, and governed. Such techniques included in situ and ex situ conservation, making conscious decisions about land use, and charting trends in food growth, production, and quality.

The conversation seemed to keep circling back to the environmental, human and ecological health consequences of the homogenized food systems on which modern humans have come to rely. Hunter discussed how achieving sustainable food security for generations to come puts a responsibility on the consumer to, not just eat food to live, but look critically at how the way we eat has the potential to shape the future of our health, our agriculture, and our planet.

Though it can be difficult coming from a field of study where there is a constant push and pull between the ideal of sustainability and the reality of big business, China posited that, “Many thoughtful people are beginning to think that we need to get that balance right.”

The session came to a close with a call for action to “the next succession of thinkers and doers and policymakers,” and China extended an invitation to the students to apply to work at Bioversity International as interns and research assistants, adding that the thirty-minute train ride from AUR takes you through beautiful countryside, and that their headquarters is only a few minutes from the beach!

Author: Kate Truini