DIVERSIFOOD uses a combination of approaches to optimise the management of on-farm, multi-actor crop evaluation (in WP2). The focus will be on underutilised crop species for marginal/specific conditions, which could be exploited either to improve or expand existing food products, or to create new products taking into account social changes and consumer demands.
The objectives are to:
- Develop an inventory of underutilised genetic resources for marginal/specific conditions and new uses.
- Carry out participatory field trials to evaluate chosen underutilised major/minor crop species for marginal conditions and potential new uses.
- Evaluate different crop management approaches associating legumes and cereals in terms of robustness and adaptation to local/marginal conditions
Despite the gradual increase of genetic resources conserved by gene banks over many decades, there has been a concomitant decrease in the amount of cultivated diversity (i.e. number of species, varieties in cultivation and diversity among varieties). In addition, there are insufficient varieties available for organic, low-input and marginal and/or specific agriculture which are able to cope with these highly heterogeneous and fluctuating growing environments characterized by, for example, variability in the supply of nutrients, high pest, disease and weed pressure, increasing climate fluctuations and consequent physical extremes, e.g. drought.
Recent studies (FP7 SOLIBAM project) have shown that local adaptation is a pre-requisite for crop performance (quality, health and yield) under such agricultural systems. Furthermore, the EIP (European Innovation Partnership) focus group on organic farming is currently highlighting the lack of crop diversity to facilitate improved performance in sustainable agriculture.
According to the European Coordination LLD (Let’s Liberate Diversity), founded by several partners of DIVERSIFOOD in 2012, increasing numbers of farmers are involved in decentralized and participatory breeding (PPB) and need more support from researchers. Several such farmers now have the experience to apply their know-how to other species and wish to acquire economic data from their first initiatives. Methodological tools are available to assist with broader application of PPB and on-farm experimentation and sensorial assessment of the quality of resulting products; there is also a need for social recognition of participatory plant breeding work, as a way to promote the sustainable use of PGRFA. DIVERSIFOOD will provide an opportunity to address this by enriching on-farm demonstrations, notably through the involvement of local seed networks and organic associations. Increasingly, consumers are looking for healthy and appetising products, along with alternative ways to buy them.
For example different movements (AMAP-Association pour le Maintien de l’Agriculture Paysanne in France; GAS-Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale in Italy; Box schemes and CSA-Community Supported Agriculture in several countries) have been created based on a close partnership between consumers and farmers, reducing the length of the food chain. In Switzerland over 60 heirloom cultivars have been successfully introduced into the supermarket chain Coop through close collaboration of PSR and FiBL. In this way, public awareness can help to safeguard diversity and promote greater food quality.
Participatory crop improvement
As important as the discovery and characterization of diverse and untapped genetic resources, their combination and use through the establishment of new populations and their improvement by different breeding methods, is of vital importance. DIVERSIFOOD (in WP3) will assess methods and put into practice using several important as well as underutilized crops and vegetables in Europe.
The objectives are to:
- Create new diversity by choosing the most interesting genetic resources based on previous projects and on WP2 evaluation and by undertaking different types of crosses or by blending appropriate genotypes. Evaluate the relative interest of each method with regard to the diversity created and to the level of the different relevant traits.
- Develop or adapt methods and user-friendly tools specifically designed for on farm decentralized participatory breeding, such as statistical analyses focused on genotype by environment/crop management interaction and assessing specific local adaptation.
- Apply a panoply of breeding strategies inspired from previous projects and expertise and specifically fitted to each crop species, to decentralized selection and to the context of the stakeholders involved (farmers, breeders, processors, consumers…) and compare them to identify the most promising.
Activities towards these objectives will be developed on several important crops and vegetables in Europe: core-species: bread and durum wheat, maize (including sweet corn), tomato and broccoli; case-species: buckwheat, barley, lupin, carrots, faba beans, onions and minor crops.