The need to produce greater amounts of food at lower and lower prices has led to a massive intensification of agricultural production over the past century, and a steady standardisation of the crops being grown. This has resulted in a significant loss of biodiversity, the negative impacts of which are now being felt. Not only is our food poorer in terms of nutritional value, choice and taste, but the micro-organisms present in the soil are being affected, threatening the longterm sustainability of food production.
The EU-funded DIVERSIFOOD project set itself the mission of providing an ‘alternative food culture’ based on the organic approach to farming, which respects the close connection between all living things, from the soil, the plant and the animal to the final consumer. Its aim was to bring together a wide range of actors – including farmers, researchers, food processors and points of sale – to promote the return to a wider biodiversity of crops and a new and improved food culture.
‘Diversifying agriculture and food systems cannot happen all at once: it needs to be a continuous and collective process,’ says project coordinator Veronique Chable. ‘Increasing cultivated biodiversity in the field but also on people’s plates is essential to increase the resilience and health of our food systems.’
DIVERSIFOOD researchers worked closely with farmers and other agro-food actors to breathe new life into the deep and forgotten biodiversity in various gene banks. The project not only looked at old varieties of crops but also considered ways of renewing diversity through breeding and adapting varieties based on specific qualities of older strains using a process known as participatory plant breeding (PPB).
In PPB programmes, researchers carried out experiments and produced data that they analysed in order to support farmers in selecting the best seeds for their particular context: information such as the history of seed management, agronomic trials, sensory tests and molecular data.
The project developed the databases and statistical software needed to manage this data and its analysis and make it more widely available.
DIVERSIFOOD addressed the whole food chain from seed to consumer. The organisers hope that more communities, such as community seed banks, will become involved, boosting the revival of agro-biodiversity and enhancing access to seeds adapted to local conditions.