Advertisement

Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 101–114 | Cite as

Deskilling, agrodiversity, and the seed trade: a view from contemporary British allotments

  • Paul Robert Gilbert
Article

Abstract

Over the last half-century, quality control standards have had the perverse effect of restricting the circulation of non-commercially bred vegetable cultivars in Britain. Recent European and British legislation attempts to compensate for this loss of agrodiversity by relaxing genetic purity standards and the cost of seed marketing for designated “Amateur” and “Conservation” varieties. Drawing on fieldwork conducted at a British allotment site, this article cautions against bringing genetically heterogeneous cultivars into the commercial sphere. Such a move may intensify the horticultural “deskilling” of British allotment gardeners, who have come to rely on commercial seed catalogs as sources of germplasm and knowledge. Horticultural deskilling also entails the delegation of seed selection activities to professional breeders and the potential loss of agrodiversity. The activities of dedicated seed savers who save and circulate the seed of genetically heterogeneous “heritage” varieties, in a manner similar to the management of landraces in the global South, may provide a better model for attempts to safeguard vegetable diversity in the global North.

Keywords

Agrodiversity Deskilling British allotments Seed saving Standardization 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The research on which this article is based was undertaken with generous assistance from the University of Kent at Canterbury’s Leverhulme Trust funded project, “The Ethnobotany of British Home Gardens: Diversity, Knowledge and Exchange.” Special thanks are due to Professor Roy Ellen, Dr. Simon Platten, and Brian Cooke. Thanks are due to all the participants from the Whitstable View allotments. Many thanks to the Editor and anonymous reviewers from Agriculture and Human Values for their helpful and valuable comments.

References

  1. Bai, Y., and P. Lindhout. 2007. Domestication and breeding of tomatoes: What have we gained and what can we gain in the future. Annals of Botany 100: 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barry, A. 2006. Technological zones. European Journal of Social Theory 9: 239–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Benton, T.G., J.A. Vickery, and J.D. Wilson. 2003. Farmland biodiversity: Is habitat heterogeneity the key? Trends in Ecology & Evolution 18: 182–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bernard, H.R. 2006. Research methods in anthropology. Plymouth: AltaMira.Google Scholar
  5. Bernstein, J.H., R.F. Ellen, and B.B. Antaran. 1997. The use of plot surveys for the study of ethnobotanical knowledge: A Brunei Dusun example. Journal of Ethnobiology 17: 69–96.Google Scholar
  6. Boster, J.S. 1984a. Classification, cultivation, and selection of Aguarana cultivars of Manihot esculenta (Euphorbiaceae). Advances in Economic Botany 1: 34–47.Google Scholar
  7. Boster, J.S. 1984b. Inferring decision making from preferences and behavior: An analysis of Aguarana Jivaro manioc selection. Human Ecology 12: 343–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brush, S., D. Tadesse, and E. van Dusen. 2003. Crop diversity in peasant and industrialized agriculture: Mexico and California. Society and Natural Resources 16: 123–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carrier, J.G. 1995. Gifts and commodities: Exchange and Western capitalism since 1700. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Ceccarelli, S. 1994. Specific adaptation and breeding for marginal conditions. Euphytica 77: 205–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cleveland, D.A., and D. Solieri. 2007. Extending Darwin’s analogy: Bridging differences in concepts of selection between farmers, biologists, and plant breeders. Economic Botany 61: 121–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Coomes, O.T., and N. Ban. 2004. Cultivated plant species diversity in home gardens of an Amazonian peasant village in Northeastern Peru. Economic Botany 58: 420–434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. DeSilvey, C. 2003. Cultivated histories in a Scottish allotment garden. Cultural Geographies 10: 442–468.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dolan, C., and J. Humphrey. 2000. Governance and trade in fresh vegetables: The impact of UK supermarkets on the African horticulture industry. Journal of Development Studies 37: 147–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dunn, E.C. 2003. Trojan pig: Paradoxes of food safety regulation. Environment and Planning A 35: 1493–1511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ellen, R.F. 1979. Omniscience and ignorance: Variation in Nuaulu knowledge, identification, and classification of animals. Language in Society 8: 337–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ellen, R.F., and S.J. Platten. 2011. The social life of seeds: the role of networks of relationships in the dispersal and cultural selection of plant germplasm. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17: 563–584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. European Commission. 2009. Commission Directive 2009/145/EC of November 26 2009. Lex: Official Journal of the European Union 312: 44–45.Google Scholar
  19. European Commission. 2008. Commission Directive 2008/62/EC of June 20 2008. Lex: Official Journal of the European Union 162: 13–19.Google Scholar
  20. FERA (Food and Environment Research Agency). 2011a. Guidelines for making a National List Application in respect of A Vegetable Conservation Variety. Fera Website. http://www.fera.defra.gov.uk/plants/plantVarieties/nationalListing/documents/guidelinesVegConservation11.pdf. Accessed 11 July 2011.
  21. FERA (Food and Environment Research Agency). 2011b. Guidelines for making a National List Application in respect of An Amateur Vegetable Variety. Fera Website. http://www.fera.defra.gov.uk/plants/plantVarieties/nationalListing/documents/guidelinesAmateurVegConservation11.pdf. Accessed 11 July 2011.
  22. Fitzgerald, D. 1993. Farmers deskilled: Hybrid corn and farmers’ work. Technology and Culture 34: 324–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Franklin, S., C. Lury, and J. Stacey. 2000. Global nature, global culture. London: SAGE Publications.Google Scholar
  24. Gell, A. 1986. Newcomers to the world of goods: Consumption among the Muria Gonds. In The social life of things: Commodities in cultural perspective, ed. Arjun Appadurai, 110–138. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Gibson, R.W. 2009. A review of perceptual distinctiveness in landraces including an analysis of how its roles have been overlooked in plant breeding for low-input farming systems. Economic Botany 63: 242–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gilbert, P. 2010. Seed saving, fidelity management, and varietal diversity dynamics on contemporary British allotments. Unpublished MSc Thesis: University of Kent at Canterbury.Google Scholar
  27. Gudeman, S. 2009. Necessity of contingency: Mutuality and market. In Market and society: The great transformation today, ed. Chris Hann, and Keith Hart, 17–37. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gudeman, S., and A. Rivera. 1990. Conversations in Colombia: The domestic economy in life and text. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hames, R. 1983. Monoculture, polyculture, and polyvariety in tropical forest swidden cultivation. Human Ecology 11: 13–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Harvey, J.H. 1998. The English nursery flora 1677–1723. Garden History 26: 60–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Heckler, S., and S. Zent. 2008. Piaroa manioc varietals: Hyperdiversity or social currency. Human Ecology 36: 679–697.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Humphries, J. 1990. Enclosures, common rights, and women: The proletarianization of families in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The Journal of Economic History 50: 17–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Iskandar, J., and R.F. Ellen. 1999. In situ conservation of rice landraces among the Baduy of West Java. Journal of Ethnobiology 19: 97–125.Google Scholar
  34. Jaffe, J., and M. Gertler. 2006. Victual vicissitudes: Consumer deskilling and the (gendered) transformation of food systems. Agriculture and Human Values 23: 143–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Jordan, J.A. 2007. The heirloom tomato as cultural object: Investigating taste and space. Sociologia Ruralis 47: 20–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, B. 1995. Theorizing heritage. Ethnomusicology 39: 367–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kloppenburg, J.R. 2004. First the seed: the political economy of plant biotechnology, 1492–2000. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Louette, D. 1999. Traditional management of seed and genetic diversity: What is a landrace? In Genes in the field: On-farm conservation of crop diversity, ed. Stephen B. Brush, 109–142. Florida/Ottowa/Rome: Lewis Publishers/IDRC/IPGRI.Google Scholar
  39. MacArthur, R.H., and E.O. Wilson. 1967. The theory of island biogeography. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Major, J., C.R. Clement, and A. DiTommaso. 2005. Influence of market orientation on food plant diversity of farms located on Amazonian dark earth in the region of Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil. Economic Botany 59: 77–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mincyte, D. 2010. Subsistence and sustainability in post-industrial Europe: The politics of small-scale farming in Europeanizing Lithuania. Sociologia Ruralis 51: 101–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Moskowitz, M. 2009. Calendars and clocks: Cycles of horticultural commerce in nineteenth-century America. In Time, consumption, and everyday life: Practice, materiality, and culture, ed. Elizabeth Shove, Frank Trentmann, and Richard R. Wilk, 115–128. Oxford: Berg.Google Scholar
  43. Mosse, D. 2007. Comment on Glenn Davis Stone, “Agricultural deskilling and the spread of genetically modified cotton in Warangal”. Current Anthropology 48: 92–93.Google Scholar
  44. Miller, D. 2002. Turning Callon the right way up. Economy and Society 31: 218–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Nazarea, V.D. 2005. Heirloom seeds and their keepers: Marginality and memory in the conservation of biological diversity. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  46. Platten, S.J. 2012. Plant exchange and social performance: Implications for knowledge transfer in British allotments. In Cultivating community, identity, and transition: Socio-cultural aspects of homegardens and gardens, ed. Serena Heckler, x–xx. Oxford: Berghahn Books. (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  47. Pratt, J. 2009. Incorporation and resistance: Analytical issues in the conventionalization debate and alternative food chains. Journal of Agrarian Change 9: 155–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Quiros, C.F., S.B. Brush, D.S. Douches, K.S. Zimmerer, and G. Huestis. 1990. Biochemical and folk assessment of variability of Andean cultivated potatoes. Economic Botany 44: 254–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Schuiling, D.L. 1995. The variability of the sago palm and the need and possibilities for its conservation. Acta Horticulturae 389: 41–66.Google Scholar
  50. Shigeta, M. 1996. Creating landrace diversity: The case of the Ari people and Ensete (Ensete ventricosum) in Ethiopia. In Redefining nature: Ecology, culture, and domestication, ed. Roy F. Ellen, and Katsuyoshi Fukui, 233–268. Oxford: Berg.Google Scholar
  51. SI (Statutory Instrument). 2011. No. 464. Seeds, England: The Seeds (National Lists of Varieties) (Amendment) Regulations 2011. Google Scholar
  52. SI (Statutory Instrument). 2009. No. 1274. Seeds, England: The Seed (Conservation Varieties Amendments) (England) Regulations 2009. Google Scholar
  53. SI (Statutory Instruments). 2002. No. 3175. Seeds, England: The Vegetable Seed (England) Regulations 2002.Google Scholar
  54. Stickland, S. 2008. Back garden seed saving: Keeping our vegetable heritage alive, 2nd ed. Bath: Eco-logic Books.Google Scholar
  55. Stone, G.D. 2007. Agricultural deskilling and the spread of genetically modified cotton in Warangal. Current Anthropology 48: 67–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. van Heerwaarden, J., F.A. van Eeuwijk, and J. Ross-Ibarra. 2010. Genetic diversity in a crop metapopulation. Heredity 104: 29–39.Google Scholar
  57. Wiltshire, R. 2010. A place to grow. London: Local Government Association.Google Scholar
  58. Wood, D., and J.M. Lenne. 1997. The conservation of agrobiodiversity on-farm: Questioning the emerging paradigm. Biodiversity and Conservation 6: 109–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Zeven, A.C. 1999. The traditional and inexplicable replacement of seed and seed ware of landraces and cultivars: A review. Euphytica 110: 181–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Anthropology and ConservationUniversity of Kent at CanterburyCanterburyUK

Personalised recommendations