Friday, 21 August 2015

Putting the culture back into horticulture

Breeding for biodiversity and sustainability with the help of the public.
The case of Oxalis tuberosa.
Part of the coursework for my RHS Special Option Certificate in Fruit and Vegetable Cultivation took the form of a dissertation, so I made use of the opportunity to explore a topic that I had at heart.

For the last year I have been supporting the launch of a collaborative breeding project for oca (Oxalis tuberosa) in the UK: the Guild of Oca Breeders. Oca is an Andean crop which starts tuberising when days get shorter at the end of the summer. However, in temperate climates, the underground growth of the tuber is checked by frost, which kills the leaves above the ground. The same happened to the potato when it was first introduced in Europe, before day-neutral varieties were bred. The Guild aims to breed oca, which is a delicious tuber, in the same direction as the potato was. Because breeding is a resource-intensive process, and since there is little or no commercial interest in sponsoring it, the project wants to mobilise the help of voluteers.

As I explored the various aspects of the project, I realised that a great deal of interesting topics had to be touched upon:
  • the relationship between culture and agriculture: people plants and the land; 
  • the breeding requirements for small and sustainable growers: resilient, locally adapted varieties, rather than uniform crops suitable for shipping around the world (which are favoured by "conventional", industrial agriculture)
  • the intricacies and costs related to plant breeding rights and their impact on access to seeds;  
  • issues of financial viability for small breeders and the opportunities from the "citizen science" movement.

With limited time on top of a full time job and plenty of other coursework, I could only scratch the surface, but I think my dissertation works as a very high level introduction to the topics above, referencing some rather interesting articles - so I decided to publish it here.


The table of contents goes as follows:

Introduction
Putting the culture back into horticulture

  • Edible crops for the future
  • Sustainability, knowledge and culture
  • Biodiversity for resilience
Plant breeding and participatory models
  • Issues with current breeding methods and legislation
  • Breeding for low input and marginal lands
  • Participatory Plant Breeding
  • Citizen science, open source, open data
Oca breeding and the Guild of Oca Breeders
  • Oca a crop for the future
  • Small scale oca breeding
  • The Guild of Oca Breeders
Conclusions
References

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