As you sow, so shall you reap
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CTA. 2001. As you sow, so shall you reap. Spore 94. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/46218
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore94.pdf
Availability of good quality seeds for sowing makes or breaks food production worldwide. It is an age-old issue, for which in the course of time countless smart and cunning technical solutions have been developed. The Green Revolution is one such....
Availability of good quality seeds for sowing makes or breaks food production worldwide. It is an age-old issue, for which in the course of time countless smart and cunning technical solutions have been developed. The Green Revolution is one such. Nonetheless, food shortages persist. Strengthening local seed supply systems is the trend which is gaining ground in the world of development, research and policymaking. The production and distribution of uniform, high quality seed is big business. It is based on a complex jumble of knowledge, products, rules and services. Research organisations develop specific varieties of plants. Specialised industries produce fertilisers and pesticides, and process and treat the product. Other companies provide transport and storage, banks provide the investment and governments the required legal environment. In short, it is a highly specialised and capital intensive area of business, which depends on a large market of cash-rich farmers with large, uniformly planted estates. For the vast majority of farmers in ACP countries this is not even remotely the reality. Most smallholder farming families are used to being responsible for the production, selection, storage and distribution or exchange of their own seeds. Taste, a guaranteed yield, adaptation to local climatic and soil conditions, resistance to pests and diseases are far more important criteria. Since these requirements are poorly attuned to the formal sector (both commercial and public), smallholder farming families are left to their own devices. Hybridisation Yet, a breeze of change is sweeping across this situation. Researchers, donors and NGOs increasingly devote themselves to bridging the formal and informal seed supply systems. Surprisingly central in their argument is their emphasis that both sides can benefit: smallholder farms get access to new knowledge and improved seeds and the formal seed sector gets access to the local varieties, which can have valuable genetic properties, like good taste, long shelf life, resistance to drought, diseases and pests. These forms of hybridisation are beginning to take shape. International seed and crop research institutes shift their focus towards local food crops and begin to act as brokers between farmers and industry. In Malawi, local farmers are selected for the multiplication of seeds for peanut plants. Farmers in Rwanda were invited to the pilot plots of a research station and explained to the researchers that new bean races should yield more to be sure, but that the beans also have to thrive on poor soils, underneath bananas and also have to survive torrential rains, which was considered more important. Furthermore seed research lodges itself more and more in farming communities in order to be in keeping with local wishes and realities. This has led to a broader scope in farming systems research and more participatory testing methods. Gender A great deal of creativity and a good sense for cultural relations in a community are essential tools for researchers warns Lisa Leimar Price, expert on gender, agriculture and biodiversity at Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands. Otherwise the voice of the women will not be heard. Women play a particularly important role in seed management and development. Besides pure agricultural tasks, it is the woman who selects seeds on taste, colour and cooking characteristics if something cooks fast, that can be an important characteristic when fuelwood is scarce. Women also experiment a lot with new varieties in their homestead before when proven successful sowing it on their fields. In doing so they both influence, as well as conserve, local biodiversity. Diversity is also closely related to wealth. Poorer farming families select less according to luxurious traits like taste and potential yield but prefer resistance to diseases and drought. A creative, participatory approach might just be the way forward to achieve locally valuable seed management systems. External technical knowledge and support can contribute in developing varieties which thrive under harsh conditions and thus keep famine out. This method can also very well result in a local living genebank, a special communal plot, where farmers cultivate their selected varieties each year, with the explicit objective of conserving the available and valuable genetic variety in the community. Of course there always will be the risk of a disaster or crop failure, forcing farmers to sell or consume their own seeds. For those instances, it is essential that the seeds concerned are also stored in genebanks elsewhere and made available to farmers. And there s the rub. This material usually goes only to the carefully selected seed multipliers. Farmers, men and women, researchers, extension workers and development practitioners, are at a snail s gallop, bridging the gap between the informal and formal seed supply systems. There is no straightforward recipe. The enormous local genetic and cultural diversity, in particular, demands time-consuming, made-to-measure solutions. [caption to illustrations] Shall I store, or shall I sell? Local networks still dominate the seed trade. For further reading: See also Links on page 10. Summary report and recommendations of a CTA study visit, Zimbabwe. 1999. CTA, 2000. 33 pp. ISBN 92 9081 2222 CTA number 986. 5 credit points (see Spore 86, p11) Farmers seed production; New approaches and practices By C Almekinders & N P Louwaars, ITP, London, UK. 1999. ISBN 1853 394 661 GBP 14.95 Euro 24.95 IT Publications, 103-105 Southampton Row, London WC1B 4HL, UK Fax: + 44 20 7436 2013 Email: email@example.com