The Finnish Landrace Association Maatiainen

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The Finnish Landrace Association for conserving traditional varieties of plants and animals and rural landscapes

A landrace or heirloom variety (in Finnish "maatiainen", the association's Finnish name) refers to cultivated plants or domestic animals that have not been subjected to systematic breeding. These terms refer to valuable living resources, populations, that have been handed down over many generations. The term landrace is also used for varieties or forms that have been bred on the basis of local populations as opposed to the products of of modern intensive, commercial breeding. During the course of their long history landraces have been modified by the complex interactions between natural evolution and human cultivation. This gives landraces special significance in defining local identity and a sense of history. They are also a rich and irreplaceable source of genetic diversity with enormous potential in future plant breeding efforts. The value of landraces becomes all the more apparent since plants are, and will remain the basis of food production for future generations, however slowly or rapidly changes in climate occur.

The main purpose of our association is to conserve in a living form traditional varieties of ornamental and useful plants, original landraces of domestic animals and rural landscapes and to promote their active utilisation. Traditional landraces of poultry, sheep and cattle can help maintain environments in which endangered ornamental species or forms will flourish. The living interactions among these and with human activities create farming systems which, at their best, give rise to traditional landscapes. Every year the association chooses a traditional landscape, plant and animal which we draw to the attention of the community at large. This year's plant is lovage while the northern dark honey-bee is the animal of the year.

The distribution of seeds is an important part of our activities. Members collect the seed of old landraces of ornamental and useful plants, as well as wild plants. For each batch of seed collected the member receives a packet of seed in exchange. Each batch is sufficient to fill several packets so that the remainder can be sold to members and the general public. The Finnish Landrace Association's unique collection comprising some 500 named accessions thus forms a living seed bank. The seed lots collected each year are sent to a packaging centre where a list is drawn up to be published in the year's first bulletin entitled "Maatiainen". The association was instrumental in rescuing a traditional, tasty variety of  turnip with good storage capacity and a strain of broad bean well adapted to Finnish conditions. Many landraces were lost during the 60's and 70's when agriculture underwent drastic structural changes. Nowadays the value of old landraces is better understood and the remaining ones are generally valued.

The Finnish landrace Association was established in 1989 and presently has over 1700 members. It is well known among the country's gardeners and horticulturalists. We arrange plant exchange days, and give courses and talks on related topics. The association publishes a quarterly bulletin and every year a field trip is organised both in Finland and abroad. This year our trip abroad takes us to Bulgaria, where our participants look forward to acquainting themselves with local people and their landscapes as well as with plants and animal landraces.