ifoam'96 ifoam'96
Book of Abstracts
11th IFOAM Scientific Conference
11-15 August 1996, Copenhagen, Denmark
EcoWeb Denmark


Organic Agriculture and Genetic Diversity W3

Oetmann-Mennen, Anja

German Centre for Agricultural Documentation and Information (ZADI), Information Centre for Genetic Resources (IGR), Villichgasse 17, D-53177 Bonn, Germany

What does the term »genetic diversity« mean? First, genetic diversity is a general characteristic of nature and its organisms that seems to be a security for the future, a means for the adaptation to changing environmental conditions. Genetic diversity in general can be divided into the diversity between species and the diversity within species. Genetic diversity is also a constituent of agricultural systems all over the world. Regional breeds and plant landraces are more or less a result of human and natural selection processes over thousands of years. Today, this agricultural genetic diversity is threatened (in parts it is already lost) in many cultures of the world. In many cases this threat is caused by the success of green revolution. This loss of genetic diversity, called »genetic erosion«, has reduced the diversity between as well as within many of the crop species. Additionally, the development of industry, in particular the chemical industry, caused the substitution of several species (e.g. dye plants, oil and fibre plants). The problem was strengthened by the farm specialization.
Diversity between and within species seems to be an integral part of the agricultural ecosystem, increasing long-term-stability and short-term flexibility. Together with the wild relatives of our breeds and crops all over the world, this diversity forms the pool of »genetic resources«. In 1992 during the UNCED process in Rio, many countries signed the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD states that genetic resources are a part of the total biological diversity that has to be conserved and sustainably used by the nations. Particular emphasis is given to the in situ conservation of these resources within their natural habitats (wild relatives) or »in the surroundings where they have developed their distinctive properties« (landraces, regional breeds). In our opinion organic farms may be suitable for this kind of conservation measures through the (re)-integration of genetic resources in their agricultural ecosystems. Following the potential functions of this kind of diversity are mentioned (in catchwords) to be discussed during the international IFOAM-conference. A) Diversity between species: 1) Marketing aspects: Species diversity a) offers a broadened spectrum of supplied products, b) gives the opportunity to develop specialities (perhaps without conventional alternative). 2) Re-integration aspects: As the use of fossil energy has to be reduced due to its well-known negative climatic effects, and the awareness concerning the significance of using re-growing raw materials (oil, fibre, dye plants etc.), old and new species may possibly be (re-) integrated into organic farming ecosystems. 3) Ecosystem stability aspects: Increased species diversity may also cause an increased stability of the system due to the phytosanitary effects and perhaps further unknown effects of a widened rotation of crops. 4) Landscape effects: Diversity of species is an integral part of a diverse landscape aspect.
B) Diversity within species (genetic diversity) 1) As organic agriculture avoids the use of chemicals and mineral fertilizers, differences between ecological conditions of the farms are revealed. Different, special adapted or adaptable varieties of the crops are needed to meet these conditions. 2) Genetic diversity is a valuable resource for variable breeding objectives now and in the future. Particulary for the - hopefully developing - ecological breeding, these resources will be important. 3) To have several varieties of crop species on the farm means to widen the time spectrum of possible marketing, especially in the field of fruit varieties (varied ripening and storing properties).