Agrobiodiversity messages from Terra Madre

From 22-26 of September people from around the world gathered in Turin, Italy, to attend the biannual Terra Madre event, organised by Slow Food International. Country delegates included community representatives, many of which cultivate crops unique to their culture and territory. They presented examples of crop, animal, fish and wild plant diversity important to their livelihoods and food sovereignty. Diversity was also displayed in the form of food products such as pickles and cooked dishes that are at the risk of being forgotten. The event, with its many conferences and discussions, conveyed a strong message of the need to continue the cultural and culinary practices around local diversity as the key way of its conservation.

Here we highlight examples of initiatives that local communities have taken to document and support diversity related practices.

Mexico – kidney bean diversity from Tepetlixpa region


Emma Israel and Emma Villanueva showcasing maize diversity grown in traditional Milpa systems. Photo credit: PAR.

Small-scale producers Emma Villanueva Buendia and Albel Israel Rodriguez Rivera showed us multi-coloured diversity of Tepetlixpa kidney beans. The cultivators formed a Presidium project to promote agroecological practices and improve value chains. The beans are cultivated in Milpa cropping system along with local maize varieties and around 10 vegetables as well as several wild leafy vegetables. One of the motivations for continuing cultivation on bean diversity is the range of culinary uses defined by specific aroma, texture and nutrient properties of each variety. Emma and Albel told us about Ayocote Morado bean variety which is listed in the Ark of Taste catalogue.

Malawi – linking cultural and ecological values to revive forgotten crops


Kondwani Mzomera holding samples of Ark of Taste products such as local lentils, fish and a special fragrant rice from Malawi. Photo credit: PAR

Kondwani Mzomera Ngwira, agricultural extension officer who is also part of the NGO Find your Feet, affirmed that traditional crops and varieties are better adapted to local soil and climate conditions. He explains that by re-discovering the cultural value of a crop, people feel motivated to look more deeply into why it has become rare. For example, the loss of many traditional vegetables, which are appreciated for their taste by communities, is linked to problems of soil degradation. One solution that has been found is giving access to and supporting the use of organic fertilizers to enhance cultivation of local vegetables. Besides crops, local species of fish and fruits were also represented in Malawi’s Ark of Taste.



Northeast India – diversity from rotational farming and the Khasi mandarin

Delegates from Nagaland and Meghalaya. Photo credit: PAR.

Community members from Northeast India exhibited local rice varieties, native wild fruits, fermented soybeans, turmeric, ghost chilly and millet diversity. Most of these crops and fruits are found in rotational farming systems embedded in a complex land-use system that includes sacred forests, wild plant areas and home gardens. Northeast India is a global centre of citrus diversity and a Presidium project is held for the Khasi Mandarin (Citrus reticulata). Despite strong incentives by the government to apply crafting techniques for faster fruit growth and better economic returns, communities adhere to their traditional seed practices. They believe that planting a tree from seed enhances its ability to adapt to changing soil and climate conditions over time.