Farmers' Rights
About FR
State of FR
Legislation database
How to realize FR
Best practices
FR internationally
The FR Project


In situ conservation in Switzerland

Traditional knowledge can also be protected through in situ conservation of agro-biodiversity. By ensuring that traditional varieties of plants are grown and maintained, the knowledge associated with and necessary for the full utilization of these varieties is also conserved for future generations. In addition, protecting traditional knowledge by keeping it alive in this manner is a guarantee for its continued evolution. The following example from Switzerland will show how one organization, ProSpecieRara, has been successful in maintaining an impressive collection of varieties and the related traditional knowledge by focusing on in situ conservation.

ProSpecieRara, founded in 1982, works on conserving and maintaining a wide selection of plant varieties. With an emphasis on in situ conservation, they have succeeded in building up a network of decentralized collections where different varieties are grown in fields and gardens throughout Switzerland. This network consists of about 1000 people who maintain and develop the varieties on their farms or in their gardens, and through a database that traces seed samples and keeps track of where the different varieties are being grown, the central office manages and controls the propagation and maintenance of the collection. The database has from 2002 been complemented by a labelling system that provides the involved farmers and gardeners with an extra incentive to ensure the continued quality of the varieties they grow. This labelling system can also be employed as a marketing tool, and currently about 150 farmers use it for this purpose.

One of the many gardens where old varieties are grown. Photo: ProSpecieRaraThrough their network of farmers and gardeners, comprising approximately 2500 individuals and institutions, ProSpecieRara has managed to conserve a collection of about 900 vegetable varieties, 1800 fruit varieties and 700 berry accessions. They are also building a collection of about 1000 ornamental plants. In addition to the farmers and gardeners who are part of the network maintaining and developing this diversity, ProSpecieRara also works together with genebanks, research institutions, food chains, organic farmers, breeder organizations and the Swiss Commission for the Conservation of Cultivated Plants. For inspiration, ProSpecieRara has looked to Garden Organic (the UK) and Arche Noah (Austria). To increase awareness about the importance of keeping alive the biodiversity of agriculture and associated traditional knowledge, ProSpecieRara has opened up part of their network of farms, gardens and orchards to the public. Every year about 300 000 people visit these places and learn about agricultural biodiversity. The organization also disseminates information, and contributes further to the preservation of traditional knowledge by collecting and publishing it in books. As a result of these activities, about 25 % of the Swiss population are now familiar with the name ProSpecieRara and its meaning.

In Switzerland, the sales and distribution of non-registered varieties are actually permitted. This provides organizations like ProSpecieRara with the legal space they need to carry out conservation projects that involve circulation of propagation material from traditional varieties. However, the varieties have to be registered on a conservation varieties list, and this type of registration also requires the varieties to demonstrate certain qualities. Compared to ordinary seed certification, it is nonetheless preferable and more suited to the conservation of traditional varieties.

A main achievement is the comprehensive collection of traditional varieties conserved and maintained in situ. In this way, ProSpecieRara is also conserving the traditional knowledge regarding the properties, uses and cultivation of the different varieties. The large number of people and institutions that are involved in the conservation work is both a part of and a reason for the success. Together, this network and the decentralized in situ approach of ProSpecieRara constitute the main reason for their accomplishments. The labelling system and the increased awareness among the general population concerning agricultural biodiversity have also been important and provided the farmers and gardeners participating in the project with additional incentives.

An important lesson from this example is that traditional knowledge can be preserved by in situ conservation. This need not be at the expense of written documentation: it is possible to pursue both options. In situ conservation is valuable because it has the added advantage of promoting the co-evolution of traditional knowledge and agro-biodiversity. Organizations involved in similar work might also note how ProSpecieRara has managed to generate interest among the public in general by welcoming them to a collection of the farms and gardens partaking in the conservation activities. Letting people experience agro-biodiversity on an actual farm might prove a strategy well suited for convincing the majority of the populations in northern countries, who tend to live their lives separated from the production of the food they consume, of the importance of conserving agro-biodiversity and traditional knowledge. The networking ProSpecieRara engaged in and their collaboration with different actors has also proven beneficial to the realization of Farmers' Rights.

(This text is based on information derived from a questionnaire completed by Béla Bartha, Director of ProSpecieRara)

Pages in this sub-section:
   Cataloguing potatoes and traditional knowledge in Peru
   In situ conservation in Switzerland
   Community registry in the Philippines
   Rediscovering traditional knowledge in Norway
Top top
 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