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Biodiversity as heritage: the practice and politics of heritage seed saving in Norway

Awarded: NOK 0.16 mill.

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Project Period:

2010 - 2011

This ten-month project, involving five months of ethnographic fieldwork, aims to understand the implications of heritage seed saving as practice for the politics of biodiversity and of heritage in Norway. The notion of heritage vegetable seeds refers to a plant cultivar that is grown and conserved with a view to preserving the biodiversity of farm products perceived to be threatened by modern intensive agriculture. Through an analysis of the Norwegian heritage seed saving movement at governmental, non-gov ernmental and local levels, this project aims to contribute to the understanding of the long-term environmental, social, cultural and political implications of biodiversity conservation practices, whilst casting light on the transformation of cultural and ethical values attached to the natural environment, and its implications for governmental policies and the shaping of a national ethos. Despite the growing popularity of the heritage seed saving movement, the phenomenon has been given very little attenti on in the social sciences. Yet it deserves academic attention as it can yield significant insights into the transformation of cultural values in contemporary societies such as Norway, in the context of widespread concerns over global food production, and the environmental, social and cultural threats of modern agriculture. The project proposes a material culture approach to biodiversity and heritage seed saving, by focussing on a unique category of objects - seeds - that are caught up in networks of excha nge, processes of meaning-creation, and discourses. Fieldwork will be carried out among volunteer heritage seed savers growers in Norway, and will involve in-depth interviews with key actors. Archival research will enable the retracing of the 'biographies ' of heritage plant cultivars as they are collected from the place of origin, accessed and classified by institutions, and distributed and exchanged through local, national and international networks of growers.

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