A blog maintained by Tevita Kete, PGR Officer
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji Islands
This weblog documents the activities of Pacific Agricultural Genetic Resources Network (PAPGREN), along with other information on plant genetic resources (PGR) in the Pacific.
The myriad varieties found within cultivated plants are fundamental to the present and future productivity of agriculture. PAPGREN, which is coordinated by the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), helps Pacific countries and territories to conserve their crop genetic diversity sustainably, with technical assistance from the Bioversity International (BI) and support from NZAID and ACIAR.
SPC also hosts the Centre of Pacific Crops and Trees (CEPaCT). The CEPaCT maintains regional in vitro collections of crops important to the Pacific and carries out research on tissue culture technology. The CEPaCT Adviser is Dr Mary Taylor (MaryT@spc.int), the CEPaCT Curator is Ms Valerie Tuia (ValerieT@spc.int).
PAPGREN coordination and support
Mr William Wigmore
Mr Adelino S. Lorens
Dr Lois Englberger
Mr Apisai Ucuboi
Dr Maurice Wong
Mr Tianeti Beenna Ioane
Mr Frederick Muller
Mr Herman Francisco
Ms Rosa Kambuou
Ms Laisene Samuelu
Mr Jimi Saelea
Mr Tony Jansen
Mr Finao Pole
Mr Frazer Bule Lehi
Interested in GIS?
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Posted 6:02 PM by Tevita
From : Society Guardian
Hundreds of vegetable varieties have been lost from UK soils and are now illegal to grow. But the conservation battle goes on Judy Steele is growing a row of peas called Carruther's Purple Podded in her Warwickshire garden. She would not find this variety in her local garden centre or in any seed merchant's catalogue. In fact, it is illegal to buy seeds of this old variety. But Steele is not a criminal or a botanical terrorist. She describes herself as "a foster-mother for orphaned pea varieties," and is one of 300 seed guardians for Garden Organic.
Garden Organic - formally known as the Henry Doubleday Research Association, based at Ryton, near Coventry - has developed an extensive seed library of 800 traditional vegetable varieties grown in Britain and which are now outlawed by European legislation.
"During Victorian times, seeds were available from local growers, and gardeners knew who to complain to if they didn't grow, but gradually seed companies got bigger and more remote," says Sandra Slack, head of Garden Organic's seed library. "Plant breeders' rights began in the 1920s. To protect customers and to standardise the seed business across borders, the EU intervened in the 1970s, making sure that seed varieties were properly tested. Unfortunately, testing is expensive and those varieties not tested were dropped. If a variety has been dropped from the approved common catalogue, then its seeds cannot be bought or sold."
These days, it is easier to grow cannabis than Carruther's Purple Podded peas or Auntie Madge's tomato or Mr Stiff's bunching onion. Worried that these old varieties would vanish unless they were in circulation, Garden Organic set up what it calls the Heritage Seed Library to rescue our vegetable treasures from extinction. To stay within the law, a scheme was established whereby gardeners pay to become members of the seed library, and each year they are given a selection of six of the hundreds of varieties to grow.
This is not just a smart wrinkle to get around EU rules. There are important cultural and scientific reasons for growing old kinds of vegetables. Many varieties that find their way into the library are part of a very personal history, as well as contributing to local cultural identity and distinctiveness.
The pea called Carlin came from a family that had inherited it 100 years ago, when a great grandfather received seeds as a wedding present. This variety dates back at least to Elizabethan times and is still eaten - doused in beer and mint - in parts of the north of England on the Sunday before Palm Sunday - known regionally as Carlin Sunday. One version of the Carlin legend has it that a shipload of these peas arrived in Newcastle upon Tyne when it was besieged in 1644 and saved many from starvation.
Seeds carry these stories through the generations, and also across continents. Few beans can be as poignant as the Cherokee Trail of Tears. In the winter of 1838-39, Cherokee people in the US were forced to march from their lands in Georgia, over the Smoky Mountains in appalling conditions, to be confined in a reservation 1,000 miles away; 4,000 died on the way. The shiny black bean the Cherokee took with them is an important heirloom seed for the American organisation Seed Savers Exchange, based in Iowa, but it has also been grown in Britain for a long time and is in HDRA's seed library.
In the last 100 years, 90% of UK vegetable varieties have been lost from our soils. The same thing has happened in the rest of the world. This loss has been globalisation's gain. Only three corporations now control a quarter of the world's seed markets, and many of the seeds available in catalogues are legally protected hybrids that cannot be saved, or won't come "true" if they are.
In developing countries, saving food plant seed - a traditional practice for which farmers and growers have been criminalised - is tied to the politics of globalisation through issues such as food sovereignty and intellectual property rights: whoever controls seeds controls a people's ability to feed themselves. In Europe and America, vegetable seed conservation is more about the custodianship of genetic and cultural heritage.
Heritage, in the sense of preserving the past, can become a selection of what we like about history and freezing it in time, even though the world that created it has long gone. So it is with seeds. To conserve the world's food seeds for the future, the Global Crop Diversity Trust has built the "doomsday vault", the first global seed bank, housed in a frozen bunker buried under the island of Spitzbergen, near the North Pole. It is intended to protect 3m seed samples from nuclear war, asteroid strike and climate change.
Seeds are more than a metaphor for our hopes for the future, and getting them growing - and contributing to biological diversity - can have more value than locking them up in a vault - especially when faced with climate change.
"Seed conservation is important, but if we keep growing these old varieties - many of which have adapted to very local conditions - we will understand more about their adaptability to changes in climate, pests and diseases," Slack says. "For example, peas prefer cooler conditions, and if you're growing them in the north of England and the climate is warming, you might find that varieties such as Glorious Devon or Kent Blue will do better in the future than Lancashire Lad. We are losing older and tougher varieties before we understand their adaptation to climate change.
"Also, we don't know about the properties of all the varieties. For example, colour pigments have been discovered that combat illnesses: the red in tomatoes helps prevent hardening of the arteries, greens are used in cancer treatment. We have to make these connections and keep seeds available."
Keeping these old varieties growing is what Steele's row of Carruther's Purple Podded is all about. She will not eat the peas but will collect them to be stored in the seed library, as will the other seed guardian volunteers growing their peas, beans, kale, lettuce, tomatoes, turnips and radishes, so that they can be distributed to a growing number of gardeners.
"I do it for the fun of learning about these old varieties and about how to be self-sufficient," Steele says. "The biodiversity aspect is very important. The Irish potato famine happened because there was no genetic diversity in the crop, so when disease struck, there was no resistance. In Peru, farmers mix lots of potato varieties in the same field as insurance against disease. Also, having heritage seeds in living form enables the plants to evolve in new conditions. In 20 to 30 years' time, there will be a different climate and we need varieties that can cope with that."
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