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Genetic diversity not genetic engineering!

22nd May is the international day of biodiversity.

Every year this day reminds us of a basic truth: diversity of plant production is in everybody’s interest. We are working on this issue in a variety of projects. In the middle of May, as a result of our 5-year long research, we introduced landrace tomato seedlings – which had been released from the gene bank – onto the Hungarian retail market. Moreover we initiated cooperation with farmers, millers and bakers to help spread the seeds of ancient cereals, emmer and einkorn landraces more widely in local value chain. We believe that biodiversity is an incredible resource, but many more people need to recognize this fact.

While modern varieties of globally dominant crops like wheat, maize, soybeans and rice are vulnerable to the extreme impacts of climate change, their wild relatives and ancient or regional varieties are valuable genetic resources due to their diversity of traits, which makes them especially adaptable. Although 369,000 species of flowering plants have been identified, only 200 species are used for food production, and according to data from 2017, just nine of these account for 66% of global plant production. Scientists try to make these species more resistant through genetic engineering, while the seeds of their wild relatives and forgotten landraces are left untapped. When farmers own more diverse varieties decreases their dependence and helps them adapt to the continuously changing environment, weather and market demands.

What we are proud of: landrace tomatoes

From the very beginning we have been trying to make forgotten tomato landraces, which had been crowded out of the market by industrial agriculture, public property again. Now the fruit of our work is here. In the middle of May 2019 we introduced landrace tomato seedlings – grown from the seeds of Hungarian tomato landraces – to the Hungarian retail market. The seeds were released from the gene bank years ago. Thirty organic seedlings were also donated to the Community Gardens programme of the Hungarian Contemporary Architecture Centre (KÉK) on Earth Day in April 2019. As a result, from this year hundreds of people will be able to grow the especially tasty tomato landraces of Máriapócs, Gyöngyös and Mátrafüred in their kitchen gardens and they will also be grown in largest organic urban community garden of Hungary, the “Garden Border” (Kerthatár) Community Garden.

Successful gene conservation is impossible without lay people

Some of our other projects have also looked for ways to conserve genetic diversity. The aim of the LIVESEED project is to boost organic breeding and the use of organic seeds sowing. From 2021 the European Union will also supports the organic marketing of heterogeneous propagation materials, which means populations will have a much more diverse genetic bases than with uniform varieties. The EU project entitled Farmer’s Pride is aimed at developing a European network committed to gene preservation with the participation of enthusiastic lay people, research sites, seed companies and community gene banks. As the Hungarian professional partner of the project we are also cooperating with the “Seed House Civil Network” (Magház Civil Hálózat), which is working towards spreading regional and ancient varieties and special cultivated plants in Hungary.

Also, within these two projects in February 2019 we initiated cooperation with farmers, millers and bakers to support the development of the landraces of ancient cereals like emmer and einkorn. This will be followed by a meeting with a field demonstration of arable crops in June.

But our research is meaningless without conscious consumers who are committed to preserving biodiversity. And successful gene conservation is impossible without these same lay people. Remember that by choosing bread made of ancient cereals from artisan bakeries instead of industrial bakery products you will not only be getting healthy and nutritional food, but you will also be supporting the conservation of the genetic diversity of wheat species produced in Hungary.


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