Landrace farmers

Scots Timothy is a Landrace variety. In Scotland there are five Landrace varieties - Bere Barley, Little Oat, Hebridean Rye, Shetland Cabage and Scots Timothy. These varieties are critical for Biodiversity and food security and will become increasingl important with climate change.

Currently the only "support" for Landrace farmers in the UK is the use of SASA's Landrace seed bank through the Scottish Landrace Protection Scheme (SLPS)

The importance of landrace diversity for UK agriculture and food security

During the 20th century, European agriculture, like agriculture in other areas of the world, went through a significant change—in the early 1900s, agriculture was mainly based on traditional systems, where most of the inputs and products (including seed) came from the farm itself; now, the genetically variable crop varieties that were once traditionally grown by European farmers have been largely replaced by the many genetically uniform commercially bred cultivars that dominate agricultural production (Negri et al., 2009). In the past, farmers would select and save a proportion of seed of their crops at each harvest to sow and cultivate in the next growing season, selecting the seed from the plants that performed best in their local environment and sometimes selecting different types characterized by desirable traits (e.g., different ripening times, particular tastes and winter-hardiness). These cycles of selection were often repeated over many years on the same farm, and resulted in crops that were genetically heterogeneous because of repeated exposure to both natural and human selective pressures. These crops are known as ‘landraces’, but are sometimes also referred to as ‘farmer varieties’, or ‘local’, ‘primitive’ or ‘traditional’ varieties. The diversity both within and between landraces was key to food security for generations because it allowed farmers to service a diversity of needs and purposes and to obtain a harvest regardless of adverse weather conditions or pest and disease attacks (Negri et al., 2009). However, landraces were (and are) not only maintained by farmers—they have also been important in home gardens, allotments and market gardens, and continue to this day to be widely cultivated, albeit on a relatively small scale.

UK National Inventory of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture 22 July 2004 -

This erosion of an agrobiodiversity resource that may be critical for future food security has been recognized in a number of international legal instruments, including the Convention on Biological Diversity and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. As a signatory to these treaties, the UK has an obligation to take steps to secure the full range of its plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, including the diversity of UK landraces.

In situ maintenance of landrace diversity goes hand in hand with the maintenance of cultural diversity and is therefore important for keeping our heritage alive.

It can be argued that landrace diversity is the most threatened element of biodiversity (Maxted, 2006);

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (CBD, 1992), the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) (FAO, 2003) and the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) (CBD, 2002a).  Article 5 states that each Contracting Party shall: “Survey and inventory plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, taking into account the status and degree of variation in existing populations, including those that are of potential use and, as feasible, assess any threats to them” ... “Promote or support, as appropriate, farmers and local communities’ efforts to manage and conserve on-farm their plant genetic resources for food and agriculture”those countries that are signatories to both the CBD and the ITPGRFA have an obligation and responsibility for the conservation of their potential or actual agrobiodiversity resources.

‘movement away from UK forage seed production and replacement of native with exotic varieties is the genetic erosion in grasslands in the UK in the form of the continuing loss of traditional permanent grassland or landraces’ (Sackville Hamilton, 1999)