The term peasant seeds, relative to the seeds of plant origin, refers to all or part of a plant organ (seed, tuber, cutting …) which is for reproduction. The peasants’ seeds come from plant populations managed by farmers, selected, sorted and preserved before being sown, hence the term “peasant seed”. The selection of seeds is both a selection by the farmer and a natural selection in the fields. Peasant seeds therefore enable the reproduction and “peasant” varieties (or population varieties). These seeds are the meeting of the biological entity and the farmer’s knowledge that is associated with it: the farmer therefore knows who to use them and what he can expect from them. These seeds are not necessarily local; they can come from exchanges between farmers who are more or less geographically distant.
Indeed, local seeds are attached to a biogeographical area but have not necessarily been selected. There is often an amalgam made between peasant seeds and farm seeds. Yet farm seeds are simply commercial varieties whose seeds are harvested to reseed the fields the following year.
The farmer who selects peasant seeds gets a heterogeneous population. This population is made up of individuals with similar characteristics but different genetic heritages: this particularity gives them an evolutionary power. It does not provide them with criteria of stability and homogeneity which are necessary in order to appear in the European Official Catalogue of commercial varieties.
Peasant seeds contribute to the maintenance or even the increase of cultivated biodiversity. They are the result of a coevolution with the environment and the cultural practices. This coevolution leads to their adaptation to low-input crop systems. They are therefore an important resource for the development of agro-ecological systems. The recognition of peasant seeds is brought into the public sphere by social movements defending food sovereignty and peasant agriculture such as the “Réseau des Semences Paysannes” (the network of peasant seeds).
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Ross Mary Borja, Pedro J. Oyarzún, Sonia Zambrano, Francisco Lema, Efraín Pallo. 2014. Realising the potential of peasant seeds. ILEIA, Center for Learning on Sustainable Agriculture. Vol 30.1. ISSN: 2210-6499.