Culture

Besides providing sources of food and livelihoods crop diversity offers values impacting   human wellbeing by sustaining culture. Agrarian civilizations at the dawn of history through recent centuries have celebrated diversity of crops in ways that offer meaning in man’s experience of the environment. Theophrastus work  ‘Enquiry into Plants’ an early reference of botany providing names and descriptions to properties of plants bears testimony to mans need to abstract from the farming use of crops to invent and celebrate new meanings of biodiversity. Writing after Theophrastus, Pliny describes bakeries and bread in ancient Rome also testifying to the importance of wheat, the major Mediterranean staple crop ‘in some places bread is called after the dishes eaten with it such as oyster bread, in others from its taste such as cake bread, it may also derive its name from the method of baking for example oven bread, tin loaf or pan bread’.

Crop diversity has co-evolved with cultural diversity producing agricultural landscapes of unique beauty constituting valuable cultural heritage.  Lemon gardens in Southern Italy are an example of an agricultural landscape of high crop diversity and cultural heritage value. Lemon pergolas and terraces on steep slopes interspersed by narrow footpaths have been built in the coastal zone of Southern Italy testifying to the importance of lemons, exchanged for gold on Mediterranean ships in the sixteenth century, when their healing properties against scurvy were discovered. Being so profitable on the market the inhabitants of the peninsula invented ways to cultivate local lemon varieties in spite of the difficult terrain and environmental constraints.

Islands of the Aegean Sea in Greece are another example of unique Mediterranean agro-ecosystem.  Dry stone terraces providing protection of small land parcels against sweeping winds, preserve water and increase arable land stretch in many forms across islands in the Aegean presenting a striking visual landscape developed over hundreds of years.  The development of terraces, drywalls and hedgerows allowed islanders to further develop local varieties of cereals and pulses better adapted to arid farming conditions.

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