Let s marry the knowledge of farmers and scientists
MetadataShow full item record
Jusi, Malcolm Sellu. 2000. Let?s marry the knowledge of farmers and scientists. Spore 87. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/46843
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore87.pdf
Low-resource farmers are quite capable of selecting appropriate plant material even in difficult environments, but they need skills and genetic diversity from both within and outside their locality. Although farmers and breeders may differ in what...
Low-resource farmers are quite capable of selecting appropriate plant material even in difficult environments, but they need skills and genetic diversity from both within and outside their locality. Although farmers and breeders may differ in what they think and what they perceive as being important, joint farmer scientist selection exercises are feasible and offer a fruitful option for ensuring farmers participation, says Malcolm Sellu Jusu. While I was working with the national agricultural research centres in Sierra Leone, numerous rice varieties were released over time but they were rarely adopted by the farmers. They simply did not use them. What, in addition, triggered my curiosity was the discovery of a for us unknown rice variety that the farmers called Pa Three Month, because it matures after three months. It turned out to be a popular local novelty. Pa Three Month was not a research station release; it had probably resulted from an outcross between local rice varieties (Oryza glaberrima) and international high-yielding materials (Oryza sativa). Here was an excellent reason to take a new look at how farmers were handling their seeds and how they selected seeds for the next year s crop. In various village trials, farmers were invited to select from a large number of farmer varieties, releases and pre-releases from the Rice Research Station (RRS) in Sierra Leone, and introductions from the International Network for the Genetic Evaluation of Rice in Africa (INGER-Africa). Low-resource farmers like variety We found that farmers chose international sativa rices from INGER-Africa as frequently as they did the local rices, but they were less interested in the advanced lines from the national RRS. So farmers look for, and like, exotic material: not just as an innovation, but also for its potential to complement existing material. There is reason to conclude that the potential of local material for selection and breeding is still not exhausted, hence the lack of interest in yet newer varieties. Low-resource farmers like to experiment with many varieties and not just a few high-performing ones. Some farmers, for instance, interplant 'older' (O. glaberrima) and 'newer' (O. sativa) types. Even without fertilisers, these combinations outyield the same varieties planted as monocrops, for reasons of internal competition. Farmers also try to synchronise flowering in these mixtures, thus enabling outcrossing and a secure harvest in adverse environmental circumstances. Therefore, Pa Three Month is probably not the only variety that might have resulted from these combinations. These farmers are among the world s most impoverished people and they work in highly insecure war-time conditions, but it is clear that they know what they are looking for and they can explain the reasons for their choices. There is also considerable agreement among the farmers, even though their choices do not necessarily match with those of researchers. Farmers know which varieties do best on poor soils, which ones keep longer, taste better, give a long satisfied feeling in the stomach, or are less susceptible to pests. They prefer to sow mixes and usually plant up to five different varieties on the same farm. Rice seeds keep for 18 months, but farmers can exchange them with relatives, neighbours, or even farmers in other regions, particularly when they move and need other rice seeds. Despite the fact that farmers have been growing rice for hundreds of years, there is a considerable regional and ethnic variation in seed management and rice varieties, for historical factors also play an important role. Inter-regional trade and proximity of towns where development NGOs and agricultural research stations are based tend to lead to more sophisticated seed selection methods, richer mixes of rice varieties and increased sociocultural relations in seed handling. Institutional innovation is needed Acknowledging local knowledge and cultural difference is essential for development and adoption of new varieties. Breeders must begin to take this into account in addition to the conventional interaction between genotype and the physical environment. I do not agree with those who argue that farmers need only a few broadly adapted modern varieties developed according to a standard international ideotype, nor with the populists ranged against them, who argue that farmers have their own ideas and genetic resources and therefore do not need external assistance or materials. Plant improvement research programmes have only focused on local varieties for introducing useful genes into well-established high-yielding varieties. They should also make farmers selection experiments a regular part of an interactive process for bringing together farmers and researchers in a much-needed, complementary relationship.