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Opportunities for farm seed conservation, breeding and production

Final Report Summary - FARMSEEDOPPORTUNITIES (Opportunities for farm seed conservation, breeding and production)

The specific rules for marketing of seeds (set in Directive 98/95/EC) combined with the small market niches for landraces varieties have threatened the conservation of local varieties and the agrobiodiversity. By preparing the EU Directive facilitating the certification and marketing of seed in the interest of conserving plant genetic resources, FARMSSEEDOPPORTUNITIES aims to contribute to the enlargement of the market of local varieties, by setting up a science and marketing based framework involving all relevant actors.

To achieve this objective, FARMSEEDOPPORTUNITIES will:
i) characterise requirements of the different stakeholders with regards to the diversity of varieties derived from the on farm conservation / management / breeding and of regional agricultural systems in Europe;
ii) identify bottlenecks and challenges for participatory on-farm breeding and seed production;
iii) develop methodologies, combining scientific approaches and farmers know-how, suited to targeted improvements of conservation, breeding, seed production and marketing;
iv) provide practical recommendations for the decision-making processes relating to the market release of seeds of landraces, conservation and amateur varieties;
v) provide a practical framework for the protection and promotion of landraces, conservation varieties and amateur varieties, especially issued from the participatory plant breeding and small scale breeders;
vi) provide the society at large with adequate information about scientific results and on-going research in order to answer to its legitimate demand for locally produced food and the preservation of endangered agro-biodiversity and to stimulate its involvement in decision-making;
vii) provide several regulations scenarios to cover most of the described situations in Europe according to the market, the farmers and the breeders needs and rights taking in account the experimental data about the status of the varieties and the seed qualities.
These scenarios, from the adaptation of the current distinction, uniformity, stability (DUS) regulation to the proposition of new legislations, will necessarily reflect the diversity of the varieties, their use and breeding methods.

Before modern plant breeding was established, landraces were developed by farmers with specific characteristics that made them distinguishable from each other. Especially, diverse local growing environments, agronomic conditions, and cultures made this variation in landraces possible. Since 1900, as modern plant breeding practices were increasingly adopted, these variable landraces were gradually replaced by more uniform cultivars that often had higher yields. The industrialisation of agriculture has changed our vision of fields and plants, both for scientists and farmers. Current seed policies have been conceived in order to accompany this agricultural evolution and aimed at increasing the use of modern varieties and at the same time protecting farmers as seed consumers.

Seed regulations encouraged a dominant concept of cultivated varieties which includes the criteria of DUS and value for cultivation and use (VCU) for arable crops.

Nevertheless, a different agriculture strongly connected to 'terroir' (a French word that refers simultaneously to the soil, climate and cultural values of an area, similar to the English notion of 'place') has been preserved and is now re-emerging in Europe. This alternative agriculture is based on different varieties than conventional agriculture, ones with strong local adaptation. Locally, adapted varieties, old landraces and mixed populations play an important role in organic agriculture. In addition, quality aspects linked to specific regional or craft products are generally important in alternative agricultural systems, and are often responsible for the preservation of local varieties.

In 1998, for the first time, the European Directive 98/95/CE mentions the essentialness of ensuring the conservation of genetic resources and the necessity of introducing a new catalogue with different rules which would include varieties called 'conservation varieties' which are threatened with genetic erosion.

To our opinion, the large diversity of experiences and initiatives is not fully integrated in European laws and policies.

FARMSEEDOPPORTUNITIES, a Specific Targeted Research project in the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), was conceived to support the implementation of seed regulations on conservation varieties (directive 98/95/EC and new directives 2008/62/EC and 2009/145/CE) and to propose complementary seed regulation scenarios taking into account the diversity of the European seed systems. The countries involved in the project (the Netherlands, Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom) represent the diversity of the North and South Europe situations. Eastern and Central Europe will be represented by Hungary and Romania and were involved for workshops. The partners represented several kinds of actors who are already involved in genetic resources, on-farm breeding and / or participatory plant breeding with farmer networks using all kinds of landraces and local varieties. The market and / or the specific agricultural valorisation of these varieties are also represented by several partners, either by organic research or farmer organisations, either by networks for peasant seeds. The international expertise is brought by IIED (United Kingdom) who is involved in participatory action research in developing countries.

In the framework of FARMSEEDOPPORTUNITIES project, the research activities and the dissemination of the results were organised in four work packages (WPs):

- WP1 contributed on the one hand to a better knowledge of the seed context in its diversity in Europe and on the other hand, performed a thorough analysis of the current regulation texts. The terms landrace, local variety, traditional variety, conservation variety, peasant / farmers' variety and population variety are often used interchangeably, and one of the goals of FSO is to bring greater clarity to the definition of these categories with the goal of developing appropriate policies. We have also illustrated the specified notions, written in the EU regulation 98/95, like the local adaptation and the threat of genetic erosion. The project has characterised stakeholder expectations by the means of a survey, in their diversity in the consortium's countries. WP1 analysed the matches and mismatches between the directive on conservation varieties with current practice in the conservation and use of varieties and landraces that are not included in national (and EU) varieties lists. This study therefore aimed at analysing whether the Directive may be considered a contribution to the conservation and continued use on-farm of a wider array of field crop varieties, or that the regulations may curtail current practise.

The last aspect of the WP was the analysis of diversity issues in varieties that may not fall within the definition of 'conservation variety' developed through non-conventional breeding methods (e.g. multilines, populations/hybrids of non-inbred parents), and the concept of 'farmers' new varieties' derived from farmer breeding or participatory breeding initiatives.

- WP2 has collected knowledge about on farm breeding methodologies for the conservation and development of landraces, amateur and conservation varieties. The starting point for the development of these methodologies was to gather the already existing experiences of farmers, small-scale seed producers and researchers. This approach was completed by the production of experimental data which aims to be used as a reference to recommend modification of the current regulations and / or to suggest a new place for these types of varieties alongside the current regulations. The participatory on-farm research has been recently developed in Europe. The partners (researchers and farmer organisations) are pioneer for participatory organic plant breeding in their country. Their experiences on on-farm maintenance and breeding will be shared and widened in a common experimentation of landraces / local varieties. Their network was the basis of trials organised over three countries (the Netherlands, France and Italy) on 25 farms on 4 species (wheat, maize, bean and spinach). Then, this WP produced an overview of innovative participatory methodologies and approaches that can be used in on farm conservation and management of agricultural biodiversity in Europe.

- WP3 focused on seed quality and recommendations for production and market. In parallel to the field trials on wheat, bean, spinach and maize, FSO carried out the analysis of seed and grain produced by the farmer involved, with the aims of:
(i) identifying technological and economic key constraints in seed production; and
(ii) developing methodologies for seed production.
The FSO main conclusions are here presented and some practical guidelines and recommended procedures will be given for the production of quality seed.
%- WP4 has enlarged the context, integrated the outputs from previous WPs and disseminated all our results. About the context, one task was to share partners' view and outcomes with other experts and stakeholders from countries not included in the project and particularly southern countries. This exchange took place during the Marseille International Conference in October 2009. Another task analysed the possible linkages between plant genetic resources (PGR) conservation (one of the aim of the new rules on conservation varieties) and marketing tools for the so-called biodiversity produce. Case studies illustrated the link between conservation, use and valorisation with a particular attention to the linkages between varieties and culture and to the creation of innovative market more suitable to this specific produce. The integration of FSO outputs leads to the conclusion that space is missing in Europe for non-uniform and non-stable varieties, mainly population varieties, or farmers' varieties, which could be very relevant for the maintenance of food tradition and organic and low-input farming systems. We brought the definitions of the varieties for legislative purposes, the legislative scenarios which have taken into account all kind of varieties described in Europe. These preliminary propositions were submitted to experts for discussion. FSO presented during its three period several communications in order to stimulate the recognition of 'informal seed systems' in Europe and to inform about the possible consequences of different laws and regulations over the land management, agricultural sector, agricultural research, production and consumption patterns at global and local scale.

All the deliverables were published on the project website, and spread through conferences, publications and other media, such as websites, a booklet and a CD-rom with all the FSO outcomes.