Biodiversity, Food Security, and Mr. Potato Head

Today, 22 May 2008, is the International Day for Biological Diversity. Happy Biodiversity Day, everyone!
I’m sure you’re just like me, and when you think about biodiversity, you picture amazon rain forests full of tropical flowers, crazy insects, and colorful birds. I know the last thing that I’m going to think about is a big heap of white, bland, mashed potatoes. It’s about as far as I can imagine from biodiversity. That’s why I looked a little closer when I read that the same folks who are organizing this Happy B-Day, are also promoting the International Year of the Potato.
Why Potatoes? I think to understand, we have to delve a little deeper into issues of international policy, biodiversity and food security.

For a little perspective, my first stop was the website for the Convention on Biological Diversity. What’s this, you say? Well, if you can remember back to 1992, you’ll recall that the Rio Earth Summit brought together over 100+ world leaders and close to 20,000 activists from NGOs around the world to talk about the environment. Three conventions (or international agreements) emerged from the Rio Earth Summit:

* The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
* The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
* The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

We’ve heard quite a bit about climate change here at Terry* but, “What is this Convention on Biological Diversity?”

Signed by 150 government leaders at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the Convention on Biological Diversity is dedicated to promoting sustainable development. Conceived as a practical tool for translating the principles of Agenda 21 into reality, the Convention recognizes that biological diversity is about more than plants, animals and micro organisms and their ecosystems – it is about people and our need for food security, medicines, fresh air and water, shelter, and a clean and healthy environment in which to live.

Convention on Biological Diversity
Ok, I realize that we still haven’t answered the question, “Why would anyone choose the potato as their poster child?” I say, Potato. You think, French Fries. Perhaps you’ve read Fast Food Nation. I didn’t see the movie, but that book changed my own image of ultra-high production agriculture. I’ve got this crazy image of producing french fries by loading potatoes into a weapons manufacturing style plant. Potatoes get dumped in at one end, french fries pepper the enemies at the other end. The connection between biodiversity, or rather loss of biodiversity, and agriculture is closer then you think.

This year’s theme for the International Day for Biological Diversity (IBD), “Biodiversity and Agriculture,” seeks to highlight the importance of sustainable agriculture not only to preserve biodiversity, but also to ensure that we will be able to feed the world, maintain agricultural livelihoods, and enhance human well being into the 21st century and beyond.

This is where food security comes into the picture. With food prices soaring worldwide, we’ve got to figure out global solutions that protect sustainable agriculture practices. Why potato? The potato is a staple of global food markets. It’s now becoming clear that Mr. Potato Head comes in as our perfect spokesperson. He’s relevant. He’s got diversity. He’s got ears and eyes that you can snap into place. What more could you ask for? Here’s hoping Mr. Potato Head can live up to his expectations and …

… raise awareness of the importance of the potato – and of agriculture in general – in addressing issues of global concern, including hunger, poverty and threats to the environment.

Mr. Potato Head

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Joanne often gets really excited when she talks about Science. Luckily, she works in the Advanced Molecular Biology Laboratory, the educational arm of the Michael Smith Labs. She likes all kinds of science but has a special spot in her heart for biology, technology, and well, sports. As a scientist and educator at UBC, she hopes that she never becomes so specialized that she loses her global perspective. (When she gets around to writing an intro post, I'm sure that she'll link to it here).