The term ‘agrobiodiversity’ refers to the variety of plant cultivars and species that feature in the human diet. A study in four European countries shows that consumers are interested in this diversity.
The genetic diversity of food-crop varieties and species is archived in state gene banks, and continues to serve as a starting point for the breeding of new varieties. Alongside the gene banks, civil-society networks make the diversity of food crops available for cultivation by farmers and horticulturalists, thereby enabling the ongoing adaptation of these crops to different and changing environmental conditions.
Consumer survey on agrobiodiversity
But what aspects of agrobiodiversity are important to consumers? The EU DIVERSIFOOD project (www.diversifood.eu) conducted a representative survey in four European countries – Switzerland, France, Italy and Spain – which showed that consumers are initially more interested in flavour, origin and price than in “heirloom varieties”.
If respondents are given information about genetic diversity, the level of interest rises, and in all countries over 70% of respondents consider agrobiodiversity and the food diversity that goes with it to be important. Consumers are prepared to pay more for this added value. Other aspects that are also important to them are special flavour, local origin and greater autonomy for farmers.
Many would like a diversity label
The networks involved in the project – ProSpecieRara in Switzerland – were particularly interested in the possibility of an agrobiodiversity label. More than half of the Swiss respondents regarded a label for agrobiodiversity as very important or fairly important. In France and Spain the proportion taking this view was somewhat higher, while in Italy it was significantly lower at 38%.
● If agrobiodiversity is explained as being “old varieties”, consumers do not understand the issue. But if respondents are given information about genetic diversity and agrobiodiversity, they display an interest.
● Networks that facilitate access to the variety of food-plant cultivars and species for growing and breeding do important work by supplementing government activities aimed at conserving the genetic diversity of food plants. They therefore deserve political support.
● When marketing genetically diverse food plants, it would clearly be worth linking the selling point of “a greater variety of foods” with references to special flavour, local origin and farmer autonomy.
● A diversity label would be particularly useful when products are marketed via supermarkets or specialist shops. This information would give consumers guidance at the point of sale.