TENERIFE, AN ISLAND OF AGRICULTURAL BIODIVERSITY
Agricultural biodiversity,or agrodiversity, refers to all the biological resources available for farming and food production. It has been estimated that throughout the centuries, man has made use of some 10,000 plant species; nevertheless, at present, most of mankind feeds itself on a mere 150 cultivated species. Indeed, four of them (rice, maize, wheat and potatoes) provide 50% of world food.
The greater part of this genetic erosion has come about during the course of the last century as a result of using improved seeds. Four generations have sufficed to destroy the work of the previous four hundred.
Tenerife, an island of agrodiversity
The geographic position of the Canary Archipelago and the fact that it has been a strategic port in the exchange between Europe and the Americas have contributed to the introduction of a great number of plants of interest to agriculture. Given the peculiarities of the Canaries with regard to their isolation and the variety of environmental conditions they offer, genetic diversification of the original crops has occurred, giving rise to numerous "new" varieties, whether they be called local, traditional, native or indigenous.
The middle slopes of Tenerife, located between 400 and 1,200 metres above sea-level are the main storehouse of all of these treasures.
In 2003 the Tenerife Cabildo [Island Economic Council] created the Centro de Conservación de la Biodiversidad Agrícola de Tenerife (CCBAT) [Centre for the Preservation of Agricultural Biodiversity] where different projects are being carried out for the study and preservation of traditional plant varieties. This Centre houses a seed bank with over 2,000 samples of the most important crops and develops programmes intended to encourage the preservation of seeds in the same environment in which they have developed up to the present day.
Why should we preserve them?
The exhibition Tenerife, an island of agrodiversity attempts to reflect this wealth of diversity and show the benefits which preservation can bring:
- the abundance of crop varieties
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, cereals or pulses stand out by the great diversity of old varieties which is reflected in the multitude of shapes, colours and sizes.
- a wealth of gastronomic possibilities
These varied tastes make up an extraordinary gastronomic and cultural treasure, with products such as gofio, "papas arrugadas" [potatoes boiled in their skins in brine], cheeses, "mojos" [spicy sauces], or Canarian stew, as well as a rich and varied confectionery.
- the rural scene
Terraces, nateros* and small family plots of extraordinary colourfulness, often fringed by fruit trees, almond and chestnut trees, are a distinctive feature of the middle slopes. Traditional buildings such as thatched houses, roofed with wheat or rye straw, or threshing floors where the grain or pulses were threshed, are still dotted about the countryside and form part of our dearly-held heritage.
- culture and identity
Plant varieties, tools and farming activities are endowed with peculiar names in the vernacular. Likewise, fiestas, traditions, customs and special usages connected with the rural environment all form part of the heritage which needs to be preserved.
Why should we preserve them?
- to recuperate local varieties and livestock breeds which play an important role in maintaining sustainable agriculture.
- to obtain new, commercial varieties and breeds which will feed the world population in the future.
- to identify new, non-food uses.
"What mankind cannot do, even with the most advanced technology, is to create genes once they have been lost"
The stewards of agrodiversity:
The traditional farmers and stockmen whose efforts and dedication have ensured that these treasures have been handed down to us. But it is also the responsibility of every one of us that this legacy is not lost; we can all play an active role in preserving them, simply by enjoying them in our meals. Please remember that next time you do the shopping.
*nateros: small terraces created by walling off a section of hillside, where the occasional rains cause earth and organic matter to collect