Help Me Define (Bio)Diversity

Dear Educators,

I never learned what diversity really is. Maybe I was taught that it is the concept of having differences — like various opinions, races, ages. That might be what diversity looks like on the surface, but what does it mean? When we talk about diversity in ecosystems, we use the term “biodiversity” (shortened from biological diversity), which is a relatively new word — one coined to discuss the interconnectivity of all living things. Did we need a new concept for this? Do we not see ourselves in the interconnectedness of our ecosystems? Some of us do, but perhaps only in the negative impacts we make, like increasing the rate of species extinctions quicker than ever before…

For over three months, I lived at the Navdanya Biodiversity and Conservation Farm in Dehradun, India. At this educational farm, the staff grows and preserves thousands of varieties of food and medicinal plants. “Navdanya” means “nine seeds,” and was chosen as the organization’s name to represent the interaction and influence of cosmic forces (sun, moon, major planets). To honor this interconnectedness, the farmers focus on companion planting (mix-cropping), where each plot is organized with anywhere from two to twelve plants growing and living together. With companion planting, the farmer achieves nutrient diversity (growing grains, fresh vegetables, storage crops, oils — all in one space) and crop insurance (if some crops fail due to pests or weather, there are other crops).

“Diversity is your resilience,” believes Dr. Vandana Shiva, founder of Navdanya.

I challenge you to see yourself as part of the (bio)diversity. We are an amazingly diverse species with a breathtaking array of genetics, habitats, talents, minds and purpose. I challenge you and your students to help me learn what (bio)diversity really is by contributing as many voices as possible to a global definition (see below for instructions).

In gratitude for your cultivation of (bio)diversity, 


Lesson Challenge:

I am collecting responses from around the world to really understand what diversity is. I will post the responses on National Geographic and share through social media to cultivate reflection, dialogue, and who knows what else! The more voices, the better. 

1. RESPOND: What is (bio)diversity? Is it important? Why would it be important?
2. Using text, imagery, or video, students respond to the questions. Depending on the group dynamics, students may interview one another or work individually.
3. Keep it simple! Answers can be just one word, a few sentences, a picture, whatever.
4. For video: Using a camera phone is perfect! Just hold the phone horizontally for consistency.
5. Send my way to

Atlanta-based student shares his opinions on why biodiversity is important
Atlanta-based student shares his opinions on why biodiversity is important (Graphic Credit: Lauren Ladov)

 Lesson Resource: Planting Friends
Ages: 8+
Materials: Companion Planting Cards
Subjects Engaged: Ecosystems, Symbiosis, Design Thinking, (Bio)diversity, Gardening, Teamwork

  1. Introduce the activity by explaining that just like us, plants have friends in the garden that get along well and help each other grow. Plants don’t always grow well with others — some compete for energy, nutrients, space, etc. So when designing the garden, we have to keep these relationships in mind.
  2. Using the cards, students have to design a space where no plant is next to one they do not like, and ideally they are next to plants they do like!
  3. First, give each student a card to arrange hemselves into the proper organization. If they achieve this easily, split them into groups and give them a lot of cards to arrange out on a table into a specific shape – a 4×4 square or 3×8 rectangle, etc.
Navdanya’s 12 Naja bed: 12 different crops planted together to support each other’s growth and crop insurance. (Photo credit: Lauren Ladov)

Lauren Ladov is a local food activist and educator. For the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, she is based in India, creating resources and an interactive open-source digital curriculum for teachers and youth around the world to engage in seed saving and diversity education. Participate with Lauren’s project through facebookinstagram, or sign up for a monthly newsletter with lesson plan challenges and materials. 

Human Journey