Continuous monitoring of agricultural biodiversity in the Alpine region: The Alpine Delphi (2007)

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The original study "Agricultural Genetic Resources in the Alps”, undertaken by the Stiftung Pro Specie Rara, was published in 1995 and successfully updated between 2000 and 2001 by the Monitoring Institute for Rare Breeds and Seeds. The update was published in 2003. The Monitoring Institute considered a new update of this study to be necessary. However, it is clear that a study on a similar scale to the two previous ones cannot be repeated every two years. Due to this fact and in order to achieve the aims of networking organisations and institutions, of documenting and updating relevant data and building up an early warning system for critically endangered agricultural breeds and species, research began that was based on the Delphi Method.

Experts from the various sectors of Alpine Genetic Resources were invited to take part in the research. The research was based on three questionnaires, which the participating experts were able to fill in online using a personal username and password. Each expert filled out a first questionnaire especially tailored to his or her expert knowledge. The second questionnaire was a more general one, based on the results of the first. The third questionnaire presented the participants with a rough draft of this report and asked questions based on the results of the second questionnaire and the conclusions of the report.

The questionnaires were analysed using qualitative methodology based on Grounded Theory. This method of systematic analysis is a well-known method of analysing data from a Delphi study as the data is often a hybrid of words and numbers. Through a system of coding, the results of the first questionnaire were divided into themes. The second questionnaire was based on these themes. For each of the four themes identified, statements were created that reflected the results of the first questionnaire. The participants in the second questionnaire were then able to say if they agreed or disagreed with these statements. In this way a broad picture was built up of the state of Alpine agricultural genetic  resources and of the institutions working for its conservation. Last but not least, trends that will influence the future of Alpine Agrobiodiversity were also identified. The last round of the present Delphi study was the presentation of this report to the participants. They were invited to comment on the content of it. In this round there was also a third, short questionnaire.

The three rounds led to the identification of two factors that need urgent attention. Firstly, cooperation between experts working in the field must be improved. Secondly, a need for research covering the whole scope of Agrobiodiversity – from the farmer through to the consumer. Further results suggest a number of measures required to improve the situation of agricultural biodiversity in the Alpine area. These measures range from the need for goal setting, cooperation and standardisation of data from the experts, through to research into the marketing of products and services as well as analysis of agricultural policy structures and the curricula of agricultural schools in the Alpine countries.

Due to the fact that the Alpine Delphi not only researched the state of Alpine Agrobiodiversity but was also a pilot for a system of long-term monitoring in the Alpine region, methodological problems of the Alpine Delphi are also identified. These problems, which need to be addressed in further rounds of the Alpine Delphi, include the challenge presented by the multi-lingual nature of the area, the need for improved design of the question-style so that answers to the questions not only provide the needed information but are also user-friendly. There are also problems of generalisation due to the large range of experts as well as the geographical and biological range of Alpine Agrobiodiversity. It is also suggested that the range of experts is increased in further rounds to include some of the areas that need further research. In this way the Alpine Delphi should come closer to achieving the goal of providing a clear picture of agricultural genetic resources in the Alps as well as indicators for future needs. A regular repetition of this exercise based on the themes that have been brought up in this first Alpine Delphi should enable successful monitoring of the Alpine Region for many years to come.
Language: English
Imprint: Monitoring Institute for Rare Breeds and Seeds in Europe in collaboration with SAVE Foundation. St. Gallen Switzerland. Final Report 2007: 2007
Series: Report,