Himalayan landraces and climate change

I think it may be worth unpacking yesterday’s Himalayan Nibble a little bit. It all started with an IPS story about Nepali women abandoning hybrids and other imported varieties for local landraces in the face of drier and hotter conditions. That’s becoming a metanarrative of sorts, but the interesting thing about this particular example of adaptation is that it came out of a WWF project.

When WWF-Nepal started consultations with villagers on how to protect water resources and crops, the women pointed out that the indigenous seeds they had used in the past were better suited to the changing weather conditions.

One doesn’t as a rule credit WWF with much of an interest in agriculture, or at least I don’t — or didn’t. I’ve now learned better. The piece also highlights the role of community seedbanks (CSB).

Operating from a room in a one-storey building, the seed bank today stocks 68 varieties of seeds, including grains like rice, maize and millets, and vegetables like tomato, green chilli, cauliflower and cabbage. The women’s cooperative runs from the adjacent room.

Which is quite a coincidence because yesterday also saw the paper “Banking for the future: savings, security and seeds: a short study of community seed banks in Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Honduras, India, Nepal, Thailand, Zambia and Zimbabwe” summarized over at Eldis. One of the recommendations of the study is that:

agricultural research institutions should extend their expertise and services for free to assist and support communities and NGOs in setting up and maintaining CSBs

Fair enough, but what about extension? I ask because also on Eldis, on the same day, we find the study “Determinants of adoption and extent of agricultural intensification in the central mid-hills of Nepal,” which concludes that:

sustainable agricultural intensification can be achieved by improving extension programmes, credit provision, infrastructural services and the promotion of irrigation facilities

Anyway, be that as it may, I think we can all agree that there’s something interesting going on in Nepal in terms of the use of landraces to adapt to climate change. It may not be the answer, but it certainly seems to be an answer. So why, pray tell, are they not listening in Bhutan? There’s definitely not much talk of community seedbanks and the role of landraces in a SciDev piece, again out on the same day mind, on the problems being faced by that country’s farmers due to climate change. Ah, but:

An upcoming regional meeting on climate change in the Himalayas, to be held in Bhutan in November 2011, will see experts discussing water, energy and biodiversity and devising strategies to build climate change resilience for food security in the region.

I hope those Nepali women with their community seedbank will be invited.

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