Little is known about the organization of landrace diversity and about the forces that shape and maintain within- and among-landrace population diversity. However, this knowledge is essential for conservation and breeding activities. The first aim of this study was to obtain some insight into how variation has been sculptured within a cultivated environment and to identify the loci that potentially underlie selective effects by using a Phaseolus vulgaris L. landrace case study whose natural and human environment and morpho-physiological traits are known in detail. The second aim of this study was to define an appropriate on-farm conservation strategy which can serve as a model for other populations. The farmers’ populations of this threatened landrace were examined with 28 single sequence repeat molecular markers. The landrace appears to be a genetically structured population in which substantial diversity is maintained at the subpopulation level (62% of the total variance). Evidence of locus-specific selective effects was obtained for five of the 13 loci-differentiating subpopulations. Their role is discussed. Our data suggest that a complex interaction of factors (differential microenvironmental selection pressures by farmers and by biotic and abiotic conditions, migration rate and drift) explains the observed pattern of diversity. Appropriate on-farm conservation of a structured landrace requires the maintenance of the entire population.