A focus on farmers

A whole bunch of interesting reports for your delectation today. From our friends Ola Westengen1, Teshome Hunduma and Kristine Skarbø at NORAGRIC comes “From Genebanks to Farmers. A study of approaches to introduce genebank material to farmers’ seed systems.”

This report reviews strategies, methodologies and projects that exist to facilitate direct access to genebank material for farmers. Based on a literature review, a survey as well as interviews and data collection from key actors in conservation and development oriented seed system work, we trace trends in the field and develop a typology of approaches.

It’s not long, so read the whole thing. But a couple of things to whet your appetite. First, the categorization of approaches:

  • Reintroduction
  • Community Seed Banks (CSB)
  • Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB)
  • Emergency Seed Interventions
  • Variety Introduction
  • Integrated Seed System Approaches

You can argue with it, but I do like a taxonomy to start things off. Second, the data.

…farmers, farmer organizations and NGOs indeed comprise a substantial user group of the CGIAR genebanks, receiving some 7% of the samples, on par with the distribution to commercial sector requestors.

Always good to have the data. And finally, the challenges: (1) reaching scale, (2) achieving long term sustainability, and (3) legal aspects. In particular scaling up, always a bugbear.

The scale challenge is both a question of seed availability and the number of beneficiaries involved. Genebanks are only able to distribute small quantities of seeds and in all approaches described here the seed multiplication step is to a lesser (e.g. PPB) or larger extent (e.g. emergency seed interventions) critical. There is furthermore a need for exploring ways to scale up in terms of numbers of farmers reached. Some of these approaches, in particular PPB and CSBs, are so resource intensive that the number of farmers directly involved in each project is likely to remain limited. On the other hand, the crowdsourcing approach to varietal evaluation promoted in the Seeds4Needs initiative coordinated by Bioversity International represents a promising strategy for large scale on farm evaluation of diverse portfolio of crops.

Susan Bragdon’s work is quoted in the report, and concidentally she has three (count them) things out this month, published by the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO).

  • Are Small-scale Farmers at the Table? Reflections on Small-scale Farmers’ Participation in Global and National Decision-Making: “…six recommendations for how multilateral institutions that host negotiations or dialogues can encourage and facilitate the participation of small-scale farmers.”
  • The Foundations of Food Security – Ensuring Support to Small-scale Farmers Managing Agricultural Biodiversity: “…a rights-based approach supported by governments nationally and internationally [e.g., the Plant Treaty] open broader possibilities of predictable, stable support.”
  • The Evolution of Rights and Responsibilities over Agricultural Biodiversity: “…suggestions on how to create a system that supports the critical role that agricultural biodiversity plays in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The culmination of this flurry of activity from Susan and QUNO is a call to action paper, The Time is Ripe for Governments to Strengthen Sustainable and Food-Secure Farming, in which….

…the Small-Scale Farmers and Agrobiodiversity Dialogue to Action Group (DtA) calls upon the international community to mobilize resources for a more proactive role of the public sector in supporting small-scale farmers, their seed systems and the protection of agricultural biodiversity. Furthermore, the group calls upon national governments to engage in consultation with small-scale farmers to identify what they require in order to effectively engage in activities to support the conversation and sustainable use of biodiversity and to achieve secure livelihoods.

Ok, so there’s a lot to take in here, but if I were to try to encapsulate the take-home message for you, it would be this phrase from the description of the second of Susan’s papers listed above:

…increased private sector interest in agriculture and food systems is reason for equally vibrant governments acting in the public interest.

And international genebanks too, I suppose.

  1. Who I believe has contributed here, in the interest of full disclosure. []

One Reply to “A focus on farmers”

  1. Very interesting report! And nice to see our Seed for Needs crowdsourcing work mentioned in the report. We now also are starting to publish on this. This is a first article. There should be more in the course of the year.

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