Economy of the commons

Development of organically bred fruit varieties in commons-based initiatives (EGON)

  • The interdisciplinary research group EGON investigates the development of organically bred fruit varieties in commons-based initiatives. This breeding approach is characterized by the utilization of the genetic diversity of heirloom and underutilized varieties in breeding, as well as the practical participation of a community of farmers and breeders. In EGON, studies are conducted from different perspectives in order to evaluate this breeding approach ecologically, economically, and socially.

    The following major research questions are discussed:
    - How do we ensure sustainable regional fruit production, develop and introduce innovative organic breeding concepts, and keep open access to the resulting cultivars?
    - How does a participatory-ecological breeding approach compare to other approaches and what are the differences?
    - What are the ecological, economic, and social effects of the participatory-ecological breeding approach?
    - What are the implications of the genetic diversity of the varieties used in the breeding process?

    The research contributions should also be transferable to other pome fruit varieties and should contribute to the discussion on sustainable orchards, agrobiodiversity, and food sovereignty.

  • Contact

    Hendrik Wolter

    Research Associate (Social Science Part)

    Mail: hendrik.wolter1(at)

    phone: 0441 / 798-2983


    Nicholas Howard

    Research Associate (Natural Science Part)

    Mail: nicholas.howard(at)



Research Approach

The project is characterized by a close and integrated form of cooperation between agricultural and breeding actors, organizations, and scientific partners. In addition to a regular cross-disciplinary and problem-oriented exchange of knowledge between the research and practice partners, excursions, conference visits, or courses are held together at the UOL. In addition, practitioners from the organic fruit-growing and -trade are involved in the research process through transdisciplinary workshops to discuss project results in a timely manner in terms of adequacy and feasibility.

Overall, EGON follows the research approach of interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity. The definition and development of the research project in the preliminary phase of the project took place in close coordination and at eye level between the research and practice partners. Research contributions from the project should have a practical relevance for fruit growing and breeding. EGON is divided into three subprojects, which are in regular exchange with each other:

(1) Applied subproject: Practical organic and participatory apple and pear cultivation by the practice partner Apfel:gut.
(2) Natural science subproject: Analysis and assessment of the genetic diversity of a wide and diverse range of apple varieties well used in the project of Apfel:gut.
(3) Social science subproject: Conceptualization, ecological-economic analysis and evaluation of the commons-based breeding approach as well as elaboration of a marketing strategy for the emerging varieties.


Today, conventional apple breeding in Germany usually takes place under intensive plant protection conditions and tends to rely more and more on laboratory approaches. These often lack the focus on robustness as a breeding goal. Modern apple varieties, which have been grown globally in recent decades, come primarily from just five progenitors. This close genetic base has a negative impact on the vitality and thus on the robustness of today's most widely grown apple varieties. In addition, the market for apples is characterized by a growing short-term nature. An increasing number of varieties are regularly introduced to the market and disappears relatively quickly. Following this, apple varieties are becoming increasingly privatized by so-called club concepts, which restrict access to apple varieties for fruit growers.

These characteristics of modern conventional apple breeding and cultivation contrast with the specific needs and goals of organic apple production and sustainable development of fruit breeding. In the field of organic fruit growing, trade has argued that the fruits must be completely free of scab, which is why the pest control measures make up the bulk of crop protection measures in apple growing. Varieties that produce high-quality fruits with a minimized crop protection that is free of scab, suitable for organic farming, and meets market requirements are currently not available. Thus, with the ecologically motivated breeding of fruits begins a necessary pioneering work.

Above all, the project partners want to make use of the great genetic diversity of heirloom and underutilized apple and pear varieties. A focus of breeding should be on the vitality and resistance to the scab causing fungus Venturia inaequalis. The resulting new varieties should be cultivated with less pesticides, be developed non-profit and consequently be usable as a common good.

Our hypothesis is that a commons-based organic breeding approach is more beneficial for the development and introduction of apple varieties for organic fruit growing than conventional breeding approaches. This breeding approach includes the use of special and robust varieties for breeding, testing in organic environments, and the treatment of seedlings and varieties as common goods. We hypothesize that this type of breeding is more beneficial for the long-term and sustainable organization of fruit production in organic fruit growing.

Research Partners

Working on the project are the coordinator Prof. Dr. Siebenhüner, chair for “Ecological Economics”, Prof. Dr. Dirk Albach, leader of the working group “Biodiversity and Evolution of Plants” and Prof. Dr. Stefanie Sievers-Glotzbach, junior professor for “Economy of Commons”.

Photo: (in the back) Prof. Dr. Stefanie Sievers-Glotzbach, Martin Lutzmann, Dr. Nicholas Howard, Hendrik Wolter, Matthias Ristel, Bernd Hagge-Nissen, Inde Sattler, (in the front) Sebastian Voigt, Prof. Dr. Bernd Siebenhüner, Prof. Dr. Dirk Albach

Practical Partners

The organization “Saat:gut e.V.“ with its ecological and participatory project “Apfel:gut” as well as the “Öko-Obstbau Norddeutschland”- an organization for consultation and experimentation in organic fruit farming- are going to be responsible for the practical breeding.

Including the botanical garden of the University Oldenburg as a breeding yard for apples, the network of apple breeders is going to be expanded by one further scientific institution. The goal is to establish the botanical garden as a location for the organic cultivation of apples in the long term and to integrate it in the existing network.



Publications from EGON:

  • Sievers-Glotzbach, S.; Wolter, H. (2018): Bringing Commons elements into fruit breeding. In: Ecofruit. 18th International Conference on Organic-Fruit Growing: Proceedings, 19-21 February 2018, Hohenheim, Germany. p. 19-28. Fördergemeinschaft Ökologischer Obstbau e.V. (FÖKO).
  • Howard, N. P.; Albach, D. C.; Luby, J. J. (2018): The identification of apple pedigree information on a large diverse set of apple germplasm and its application in apple breeding using new genetic tools. In: Ecofruit. 18th International Conference on Organic-Fruit Growing: Proceedings, 19-21 February 2018, Hohenheim, Germany. p. 88-91. Fördergemeinschaft Ökologischer Obstbau e.V. (FÖKO).
  • Wolter, H.; Howard, N. P.; Ristel, M.; Sievers-Glotzbach, S.; Albach, D.C.; Sattler, I.; Siebenhüner, B. (2018): Research Project EGON: Development of organically bred fruit varieties in commons-based initiatives. In: Ecofruit. 18th International Conference on Organic-Fruit Growing: Proceedings, 19-21 February 2018, Hohenheim, Germany. p. 92-95. Fördergemeinschaft Ökologischer Obstbau e.V. (FÖKO).

Publications  from the "Apfel:gut"-Project:

  • Ristel, M.; Bornemann, M.; Sattler, I. (2018): Apfel:gut - preliminary results. In: Ecofruit. 18th International Conference on Organic-Fruit Growing: Proceedings, 19-21 February 2018, Hohenheim, Germany. p. 96-99. Fördergemeinschaft Ökologischer Obstbau e.V. (FÖKO).
  • Sattler, I.; Bannier, H.-J. (2016): Apfelzüchtung: Umfassende Vitalität statt monogener Schorfresistenz. In: Öko-Obstbau (2) 2016. S. 26-28. Download.
  • Ristel, M.; Sattler, I.; Bannier, H.-J. (2016): More vitality, genetic diversity and less susceptibility as an organic fruit breeding strategy. Download.
  • Ristel, M.; Sattler, I. (2014): Participatory organic fruit breeding. In: Ecofruit. 16th International Conference on Organic-Fruit Growing: Proceedings, 17-19 February 2014, Hohenheim, Germany. p. 158-161. Fördergemeinschaft Ökologischer Obstbau e.V. (FÖKO). Download.
  • Sattler, I.; Ristel, M.; Heyne, P. (2013): Apfel:gut - Entwicklung ökologisch gezüchteter Obstsorten. In: Pomologen-Verein e.V., Jahresheft 2013. p. 52-57. Download.



2017 - 2019


The state government of Lower Saxony promotes the three-year project from the “Niedersächsisches Vorab der Volkswagenstiftung”. The research group is one out of five projects, which are promoted by the state government to strengthen sustainable agricultural production from 2017 onwards.