Wed, 04/11/2009 – Jude Fanton

Japan, November 2009

Biodiversity to me is not an abstract concept. It is something that tastes good, that you share with friends. It is also a feeling. I have vivid memories of biodiversity from my childhood. These are the main points of the introduction that Michel Fanton wrote to a presentation that he and Jude delivered at Biodiverty Japan Symposium in Kanazawa on October 25th 2009.

I would like to invite you to join me and slip into your own feelings of what biodiversity means to you personally, living in such magnificient rural landscapes. I hope that you will find your own memories of biodiversity and how they have affected your life. You may remember your own satoyama, the landscape of traditional farming communities that includes the farm house and yard, the kitchen gardens, the fields, the rivers  and the surrounding forest. All contributing to provide delicious and nutritous food for the family and for the market and a sense of community.


IMAGE Typical satoyama in island of Kyushu in Autumn with ripe persimmons, or kaki, native of Japan.

I am French, born in the Les Vosges mountains of Lorraine near Germany and Switzerland in a subsistence farming community.

As we travel to beautiful farmhouses around Japan, it reminds me of the village in the forest where i was born. I realise traditional farmers in Japan still get their mushrooms and berries from the forest, and also from the huge diversity of the VARIETIES of fruits, nuts, vegetables and root crops they grow around their farms.

At five years old, I used to pick many flowers for my mother. One I remember fondly is primroses.  Funnily enough the different patches of primroses in the meadows changes in colour and fragrance. I learnt to discover new ones and loved them all. That was my introduction to the complexities of biodiversity.

On May 1st I would pick lily of the valley, or muguet in French. Some had much more smell than others some had larger bells and some shorter stems.


At ten, I would pick wild blueberries from the forest for my mother to make preserves. The characteristics of the blue berries would change at different altitudes and soils. I knew where to find different types bearing at different time. I learnt that plants adapt to their environment.

We picked wild plums on the edge of the forest and many locally evolved old traditional varieties along roadsides with “personalities” such as Mirabelles or Questches. Both co-habited. We ate them all.

We had the best-tasting semi-wild cherries on the side of road and we had the best cultivars. We kids picked them all. With these fruits the men made alcohol and the women jam.


My family picked wild hazelnuts in the forest. We also had several varieties of cultivated hazelnuts in our gardens.


My family grew in excess of 30 varieties of potatoes, ten of beans, six of lettuces, and three of leeks, etc. Each had its different treatment in the kitchen. Some green beans were for instant use, others for preserving to eat in the long winter.

Gardens of Tahiti

In 1966 I travelled to Tahiti and the Tuamotu islands of French Polynesia where I discovered that Polynesians had the same diversity in their food plants. My favourite was a banana known as Fei. It grows wild in the forest with its huge bunches facing the sky. Tahitians are now rediscovering varieties of fei that were thought of as lost or only remembered by elders.

Tahiti for me was paradise. I started to understand my own native biodiversity. I hope that all children are given the opportunity today enjoy the same!

Wild and cultivated plants sometimes cross-pollinate when they exchange pollen.  Please close your eyes for a moment and enjoy your memories of the Japanese agricultural landscape, satoyama.

It is not only the plants but also the farmers that are endangered. There are only a few farmers left as they are growing older.

Modern agriculture does not provide a market for the hundreds and thousands of types of fruits and vegetables that home gardeners are still keeping today. There are decreasing numbers if these people and we are losing varieties.

Solutions to this situation

We need the public to recognise and appreciate diversity (if they are not too young to remember it!).

We need older farmers teaching the young to keep and utilise the biodiversity of our food plants.

We need everyone with a home garden to take care of at least one variety.

Worldwide we need to stop logging tropical and temperate forests to make disposable goods. We need to reserve timber for long lasting products that will last as long as the tree took to grow at least. We need to keep our seas healthy and biodiverse making sure all species survive. Start with the seed!

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