Economy of commons

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

  • The new interdisciplinary research group examines how sustainable regional fruit cultivation can be secured, innovative organic breeding concepts can be developed and how the access to the newly developed apple and pear varieties can be kept open.

    The project focuses on the development of organic fruit varieties from regional cultivation and the use of the great genetic diversity of old apple and pear varieties in Lower Saxony. Furthermore, the project aims at providing research contributions on the organic development of sustainable apple species, carrying out ecological-economic as well as ethical evaluations and assessing marketing potentials. Insights on breeding strategies and marketing shall be transferred to other types of fruits (e.g. pears) as far as possible within the framework of this research project.

  • 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 cooperation between agricultural-breeding actors, organizations and scientific partners. The selection of topics was done in close consultation and on equal footing. Hence, the project can raise the claim to follow the principles of transdisciplinary research in the first phase of problem definition and development of the research process.

The project partners ensure the problem-oriented knowledge exchange across disciplines during a kick-off workshop. Thereafter, they regularly coordinate the interaction between breeding and scientific research. Additional practical actors from the fields of organic fruit farming and fruit trading will be invited to practitioner days in order to evaluate the research findings according to relevant needs and their feasibility. With the support of the various project partners, the findings from the breeding yards are to be further developed at commercial organic farms. Knowledge from pomology, evolution genetics, ecology, economy and ethics shall stimulate each other mutually and be put into practice.


The apple is the most widely cultivated fruit of the temperate latitudes. Within 700-years of fruit farming tradition in the “Alte Land” in Lower Saxony, the farming of apples established itself as the central pillar of fruit farming in the “Niederelbe” area.

For centuries, seeds have been cultivated as a common property, i.e. seeds have been perceived as a shared resource which is kept, exchanged and enhanced among (a group of) farmers.

Nowadays apple breeding is increasingly taking place under laboratory conditions, using genetic manipulation by which patented species can be created that are no longer freely accessible or tradable. Modern apple varieties of the last decades can be almost completely reduced to five progenitors. This close genetic basis negatively influences the vitality of current apple species and leads to inbreeding-like conditions in the next generations of eventually developed species.

The retail market in the organic fruit sector, enforced that fruits must be completely free from scab. Thus, plant health measures controlling scab make up for the bulk of plant health measures in apple farming. Species which produce scab-free, high quality fruits suitable for organic agriculture and also meet other market conditions are currently not available. Therefore, organically motivated and market-oriented fruit breeding does pioneer work. One focus regarding breeding efforts is to lie on the vitality and resistance to the scab inducing fungus Venturia inaequalis. The resulting new varieties are to be cultivated with less plant protection products, developed in a non-profit way and can be used as a common property.

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 the "Apfel:gut"-Project:

  • 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. (2014): Participatory organic fruit breeding. In: Ecofruit. 16th International Conference on Organic-Fruit Growing: Proceedings, 17-19 February 2014, Hohenheim, Germany. S. 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. S. 52-57. Download.
  • Ristel, M.; Sattler, I.; Bannier, H.-J. (2016): More vitality, genetic diversity and less susceptibility as an organic fruit breeding strategy. Download.



2017 - 2019


The state government of Lower Saxony promotes the three-year project from the “Niedersächsischen 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.