The term “conservation variety” was introduced in Europe on 14 December 1998 by the Commission Directive 1998/95/EC, as a new type of agricultural varieties that can be marketed in Europe to preserve the plant genetic resources favoring the marketing of their seeds. After an overview on the origin and significance of biodiversity, local varieties and conservation varieties, this review focuses on 102 conservation varieties registered in the European Common Catalogue of varieties for vegetable crops. Only 12 out of the 28 EU Countries list registered conservation varieties in the Common Catalogue: Italy, Spain, Croatia, Portugal, Romania, France, Slovenia, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Latvia and Hungary. Italy has the highest number of registered varieties, although only three Regions have registered conservation varieties of vegetable species in the Common Catalogue: Tuscany (21), Piedmont (8) and Lombardy (3). For each variety in the Italian conservation register, the main parameters set by the Commission Directives are reported: area of origin, the total area that can be cultivated, the total area used for seed production, and the annual quantitative limits for the production of seed. The Lombardy Region study case shows how it is possible to simplify the procedure for the submission and evaluation of requests to register potential conservation varieties in the specific section of the National Register of varieties of agricultural and vegetable species. Instead, the Apulia Region case study emphasizes the role of growing and marketing seeds of conservation varieties to preserve plant genetic resources. Despite the recent recover of 122 local vegetable varieties, and the specific actions taken by the Regional Administration to protect plant genetic resources, the Apulia register for conservation varieties has not been established yet. The procedure for the submission and the evaluation of applications to register conservation varieties in the National Register, both foreseen by the regional law 2013/39 (Protection of indigenous genetic resources of agricultural, forestry and livestock) is still in progress. This review also analyses the tight relationship between the traditional agri-food products (products with a strong reputation and close relationship with the territory) and conservation varieties, because often the traditional agri-food products are local varieties or have these varieties as a main component or ingredient. Therefore, we recommend the development of information and communication campaigns to help raise awareness about traditional agri-food products and conservation varieties among consumers, and to foster their interest in implementing the virtuous circle of “if you eat me, you preserve me”.
Keywords: agrobiodiversity, local varieties, Italian traditional agri food products, seed legislation, Common Catalogue