Peasant seeds in Europe: stakes and prospects

Riccardo Bocci, Véronique Chable


The myth of technological progress in agriculture and then modern plant breeding have resulted in a separation of farming from breeding activities. Seed laws have
also contributed to this outcome (e.g. by imposing strict rules for the entry of varieties in the official catalogue). Nowadays, some pioneers, among them farmers rejecting industrialized agriculture and more often practising organic agriculture, are proposing a different option.
In Europe, since the beginning of this century, they have been organizing themselves in networks: the Réseau Semences Paysannes in France, the Red de Semillas in Spain and the Rete Semi Rurali in Italy. Their members are farmers, consumers and scientists working together in order to reconsider the scientific, technical and legal aspects of seed production. These new varieties are designated ‘peasant varieties’, a concept that encompasses two main aspects: the seed, the reproductive part of the plant linked to its terroir, and the variety, shaped by history and coevolved with farmers. Scientists working with these networks are developing participatory plant breeding projects, which aim to broaden agrobiodiversity by creating so called new peasant varieties. The basis of these projects comes from old local varieties and landraces conserved in seed banks. In Europe, the legal framework has evolved since the establishment of ‘conservation varieties’ by directive 98/95. The European research project Farm Seed Opportunities is under way to support new seed policies, in the light also of the different national contexts. The debate in Europe now offers a range of seed systems models. It is time to enlarge this debate to southern countries through the sharing of knowledge between farmers of the North and the South, aiming at conserving agrobiodiversity and promoting rural innovation.

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