“Promoting peasant farming and an ecological solidarity-based agriculture in Europe”

BEDE – 2008

Agricultural industrialisation, supported by European agricultural policies, is stoking the rural exodus and hence, rural vacuum. The phenomenon does not seem to be levelling off, even after decades of “modernisation”. In the European Union, a farm folds up every minute.
Agricultural biodiversity is also sloping off. According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), about 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural plants apparently disappeared from the fields during the 20th century. Cultivated biodiversity is directly connected to the vitality of the rural society that maintains it, as was pointed out by a member of the Association Quarantina who cultivates an ancient variety of potatoes in the Liguria mountains in Italy. “Before thinking about the conservation of peasants’ varieties, think about keeping the farmers in their home environment!” he said.
As a reaction, Europe saw a campaign take off to revive peasants’ crop seed and protect the biodiversity on the farm. Energy, drawn from bio-dynamic and organic farming movements, was poured into protecting and developing a live and cultural heritage, and became more powerful when evidence was found of risks of contamination linked to the dissemination of genetically modified plants (GMP). The fact that seed companies offered little or no seed for organic farming convinced numerous smallholders of the need to resuscitate lost seed and lost knowledge.

In 2006-2007, BEDE worked with the French farmers to organise study visits on old seed varieties in several countries of Europe. Many organisations were involved, namely: France (Réseau Semences Paysannes, Inf’OGM), Bulgaria (Agrolink), Spain (Red de Semillas, EHNE, Asemblea Pagesa de Catalunya), Italy (Rete Semi Rurali, Centro internazionale de Crocevia), Portugal (Coher Para Semear), Romania (Federation National Agriculture Ecologique, InfOMG). Discussions during the study visits showed that plant biodiversity conservation would not be easy. And European legislation is an obstacle to biodiversity that is essential to the future of agriculture. The stakes are high. What is more encouraging is that numerous on-site conservation efforts have produced very positive results in bringing out the qualities of local varieties and traditional practices. Reviving ancient varieties can be turned into a trump card for farmers anxious to diversify and capitalise their professions. Keeping plant biodiversity alive could give a new dynamic to the European rural landscape. The study visits demonstrated the effectiveness of joining organisations to protect ancient varieties. Developing partnerships between conservation institutions and farmers would unarguable contribute to better management of agrodiversity. Many researchers were very open to including these farmers in their projects. For them, on-farm conservation would also mean recognising traditional practices connected to these ancient varieties.
This leaflet is available in French, English, Bulgarian, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian.
It is provided with a CD that includes all the press articles on the study trips in Europe; a basic vocabulary on themes covered in the brochure in five languages; laws on seed, GMOs and sanitary standards, and a series of photos.
The brochure was funded by the Fondation de France, the Fondation pour le Progrès de l’Homme, and the Fondation Un Monde par Tous.
The study visits were funded by the EU Leonardo Da Vinci programme.

Price: 10 €