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Embedding crop diversity and networking for local high quality food systems

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - DIVERSIFOOD (Embedding crop diversity and networking for local high quality food systems)

Okres sprawozdawczy: 2017-09-01 do 2019-02-28

Modern agriculture is increasingly relying on a shrinking diversity of crop species and genotypes. Increasing diversity by rediscovering underutilised crops is key to ensure future sustainability and resilience. DIVERSIFOOD aimed to enlarge the circle of actors committed to increasing diversity in agriculture and the preservation of genetic resources. A multi-actor approach involved all relevant actors with different working backgrounds within the food system to enrich cultivated biodiversity by testing, renewing and promoting underutilized or forgotten crops, species and varieties. The objective was to embed diversity in the food system to promote local, high quality food. The research process itself has been embedded in its environmental and social contexts, and has therefore adopted a decentralised and participatory, instead of a usual top-down, approach.
Complementary approaches were developed to explore and create:
- Relevant, locally developed innovations
- New biodiversity management models
- New approaches to plant breeding and management
- New crops, diverse varieties or populations
- Diverse healthy and tasty food products and their valorisation in the marketplace
- Original experimental and communication tools to connect activities and people
- Paradigm shift for multi-actor and transdisciplinary research.
From the start of the project, all partners were involved in developing common definitions, a toolkit to foster multi-actor research in agrobiodiversity and an overarching framework for multi-actor research (WP1). Throughout the project, a wide range of aspects and perspectives from the natural and social sciences were integrated. DIVERSIFOOD provided a working definition of “underutilised crop” to drive the experimental work (WP2) . DIVERSIFOOD created a knowledge basis on about 15 species through (i) a documentation work on underutilised species in given contexts, (ii) a distribution of genetic resources to real communities in all partner countries to multiply, describe and evaluate the useful variation, and (iii) exploring the potential of underutilised genetic resources to design successful mixed cropping systems. During the project, new participatory methods well adapted for decentralized on farm breeding (WP3), were developed and tested to create new diversified populations based on an increased use of genetic resources adapted to the local context and to users involved (farmers, breeders, processors, consumers). An open-source statistical toolbox (PPBStats) was released alongside decision tools to select the appropriate methods in each situation. More than 120 improved populations of bread wheat, durum wheat, einkorn, barley, maize, faba bean, white lupin, tomato, onion and carrots, with new or specific quality traits, were developed, some of which are now already used by farmers.
DIVERSIFOOD has described the complexity of relationships within seed systems (WP4). DIVERSIFOOD facilitated cooperation between multi-actor and participatory research networks and advocated to promote, sustain and maintain diverse and sustainable seed systems. Going beyond the dichotomy between formal and informal seed systems, DIVERSIFOOD focused on the diversity of actors and on facilitated flows of germplasm and knowledge amongst them, also through modelling approaches. Community seed banks (about 80) and civil society organisations from Spain, France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland, were studied and surveyed about their involvement in diversity management. Several workshops with international institutions, discussing these data, have produced a set of recommendations to increase the awareness of key policy makers on the importance of biodiversity management.
Investigation of the market potential for diverse food (WP5) based on 11 case studies, analysis of the label concept and new communication tools, a representative consumer survey in four countries, and the close exchange among the involved partners allowed identifying the most appropriate valorisation strategies for biodiverse food. The approach covered the whole supply chain and included the identification of needs and expectations of breeders, farmers, processors and consumers. Key success factors and bottlenecks in the valorisation of biodiverse food informed a set of policy recommendations.
The consortium developed easy-to-understand documents to be spread online and during public events (WP6). DIVERSIFOOD has published a valuable amount of accessible publications, including seven Booklets, three reports and 24 Innovation Factsheets. Several booklets are available in different languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese).
DIVERSIFOOD placed a specific focus on learning methods and on the active involvement of stakeholders in public events such as farm days, workshops and trainings. These events played a key role in the communication strategy toward partners’ networks, whereas the EU Forum in Brussels mainly addressed policy makers and NGOs, and the final Congress addressed the scientific community and sister projects.
Through the development of concepts, a toolkit and an overarching framework, the project has contributed to the development of more holistic approaches and methodologies, facilitating thinking the organisation of agri-food systems and its transition towards more diversified food systems. With this knowledge and tools, society can change agricultural systems into food networks and close the gap between agriculture and society. DIVERSIFOOD has gathered existing knowledge and distributed genetic resources of several species into concrete innovation processes and has created a proof-of-concept of an inclusive learning process that can trigger local innovation processes aiming to diversified cropping systems, local, diversified and high-quality food. Participatory plant breeding methods, targeting a broad range of traits and involving many different of actors and species, are boosting intra- and inter-varietal diversity and created adapted trial design and statistic methods for on-farm experimentation. DIVERSIFOOD looked at seed breeding and production with a wide perspective that includes the whole seed system and integrates different activities: from the search for new varieties to seed marketing. The project developed the concept of “Community Agrobiodiversity Management” as a key element of on-farm management strategies, understanding how the policy and legal environment can impact local systems. Supporting community organisations and strengthening their capabilities is of paramount importance to achieve the sustainable use of plant genetic resources, learning from existing networks working at the local level. DIVERSIFOOD demonstrated the socio-economic value of innovative biodiversity management systems, increasing food and environmental awareness at local policy levels in regional food chains, promoting sustainable, locally adapted farming systems, providing autonomy to farmers, supporting local short and fair supply chains and reconnecting farmers and consumers. Finally, DIVERSIFOOD developed concepts, practices and policy recommendations to support the spread within society of a new culture of food based on diverse, tasty and healthy food.