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Rewarding best practices in Norway

Providing awards for innovative practices can be a way of granting recognition to farmers for their contribution to the global genetic pool, and of showing that the contributions they make are valued by society. In Norway one such award has been established to motivate the conservation and use of genetic resources and promote awareness around these issues.

The Norwegian Genetic Resources Centre is a government institution founded by the Ministry of Agriculture in 2006 to coordinate national efforts towards the utilization and conservation of plant genetic resources. In this context an annual Plant Heritage Award has been introduced, to be awarded individuals or institutions that have made special contributions to the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic diversity in agriculture. In the officially appointed body that awards the prize, the farmers' organizations in Norway are represented.

Farmer Erling Olsen (right) receives the Plant Heritage Award from Per Harald Grue, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Norway. Photo: Even BratbergIn 2006 one of the recipients of the award was Erling Olsen, a farmer and formerly a breeder at a Norwegian research facility. He was given the award for his conservation of more than 170 older varieties of potato. These are varieties he raises on his little farm in Snertingdal and multiplies in order to distribute to a network of farmers and gardeners who contribute to maintaining this diversity. In addition, Erling Olsen also maintains a comprehensive diversity of grain, fruit and berries. He travels widely to lecture on genetic diversity, often focusing on the conservation and use of older varieties.

The award serves as a way to provide farmers and the public in general with information on genetic resources and biodiversity, and it can also supply farmers with valuable in-put on how to utilize such resources. It has also heightened the focus on conservation and sustainable use of older varieties of plants, and increased the demand for propagating material of such varieties. This ensures that the varieties are actually used, which is the best guarantee against genetic erosion.

One reason for the success of the award is probably its links to topics such as cultural history, food culture, environmental protection and the protection of biological diversity, which are all on the agenda in Norway these days. Seed Savers and other similar networks in various countries have served as an inspiration for the work of the Norwegian Genetic Resources Centre and the decision to set up the award. The idea is to mobilize people to care for both conservation of genetic resources and increased diversity in the production of food.

One problem with the award is that it grants recognition to people who to a significant extent are, at least technically, breaking the law, in that they base their activities on seed exchange. The law regulating this is considered to be a wrong signal from the authorities, and it is hoped that the regulation can be changed in this regard. In the meantime there seems to be a silent shared understanding with the responsible authorities that the regulation in question is not to be enforced unless absolutely necessary.

The most important lesson from this work, according to the Norwegian Genetic Resources Centre, is that individuals and NGOs are a major resource in the work for the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. It has also demonstrated the role such awards can play when it comes to increasing the focus and attention on issues related to genetic resources and stimulating activities geared towards the use and conservation of these resources. By setting up awards such as this, the authorities can play a role in the promotion of Farmers' Rights, demonstrating their appreciation of the work done by organizations and individuals with regard to maintaining genetic resources.

(The information in this text was provided by Åsmund Asdal, Scientific Advisor at the Norwegian Genetic Resources Centre in a questionnaire completed in December 2007.)

Pages in this sub-section:
   Creating incentive structures from the ground in the Philippines
   Community seed fairs in Zimbabwe
   Community gene banking and on-farm conservation in India
   Dynamic Conservation and Participatory Plant Breeding in France
   Participatory plant breeding adding value in Nepal
   Capacity-building for seed potato selection in Kenya
   The Peruvian Potato Park
   Rewarding best practices in Norway
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 In this section:
  What is a 'success story' of FR?
  Success stories from the realization of the right to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed
  Success stories on traditional knowledge related to agro-biodiversity
  Success stories on benefit-sharing measures
  Success stories on participation in decision making
  Common features

Photo: Pratap Shrestha, Nepal