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Landraces and folk varieties: a conceptual reappraisal of terminology

Berg, Trygve
Euphytica 2009 v.166 no.3 pp. 423-430
germplasm, terminology, landraces, farmers, agronomic traits, plant genetic resources, germplasm conservation, artificial selection, crops
Farmers' seeds are most often lumped together in one broad category called 'landraces'. But such a category covers variety types that reflect different levels of farmer involvement. Those differences matters when we discuss such issues as genetic erosion, on-farm conservation and seed related policies. The term landrace can be traced to the time when 'modern' varieties of cereals were introduced to European farmers in the late nineteenth century. The farmers' varieties of the time were called 'landraces' and understood as seeds adapted to local growing conditions through natural adaptation usually with no intentional selection. But the term was quickly adopted as generic for all farmers' varieties including those that are bred and maintained by active seed selection on-farm. Such farmer-bred varieties are better termed 'folk varieties'. The article discusses how interaction of crop characteristics and developing technologies resulted in the evolution of crop varieties as either landraces or folk varieties. It is argued that vulnerability to different agents of genetic erosion and feasibility of on-farm conservation are clearly different for the two categories of farmers' varieties. Likewise seed policies, particularly the issue of Farmers' Rights would benefit from clarity of type of farmers' varieties.