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The Future of Food: Seeds of Resilience

Strategic Opportunities to Strengthen Community Based Approaches to Seed Agrobiodiversity
Opportunities Report
Opportunities Report by Emile Frison and Toby Hodgkin

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Introduction

Although agrobiodiversity reflects the entire panoply of diversity that contributes directly and indirectly to food production, including livestock, pollinators, microbes etc., in this report we focus on the diversity of crops and the plant genetic diversity of farmer maintained local varieties or landraces of major crops (LR) and neglected and underutilized plant species (NUS) and their crop wild relatives (CWR), and the rangeland plant species so important to pastoralists and herders.

Improving conservation and increasing the availability of agrobiodiversity will become more and more important, not only in the pursuit of improved crop performance, but also in the context of adaptation to climate change, greater resilience, improved nutrition, maintaining the socio-economic balance of farming communities and the rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems (Frison et al., 2011). The management and sustainable use of agrobiodiversity is important to sustain the livelihoods of poor communities who practice traditional farming systems and who live in harsh, often marginal, environments (Jarvis et al., 2016).

The continued or increased use of agrobiodiversity is not only important to produce sufficient nutritious food but also plays a key role in providing regulating, supporting and cultural ecosystem services, by contributing to the resilience and sustainability of the agricultural ecosystems and enabling the maintenance of cultural traditions, particularly of Indigenous Peoples (Thrupp, 1998). The genetic resources of local species play a vital role in rehabilitating and restoring degraded ecosystems (Broadhurst et al., 2008). Additionally, and of direct relevance to rural farming communities, agrobiodiversity can make vital contributions to supporting and diversifying the livelihoods of its custodians. It is important to note that agrobiodiversity, while an essential component of agricultural ecosystems, is also a product of these same agroecosystems. It is shaped by multiple anthropogenic and environmental processes.

“The presence of plant genetic diversity in production systems is therefore essential to ensuring sustainable, adaptive and resilient food production systems that meet the needs of rural communities and Indigenous Peoples.”

On-farm or in situ conservation and management of plant genetic diversity complements ex situ conservation (Maxted et al., 1997) in that it allows the continued evolution and selection of the diversity to adapt to changing environments (Vigouroux et al., 2011) and conserves a wider genetic base (Scarcelli et al., 2006). In the absence of continued evolution in situ, the so-called global system of conservation for use risks becoming static, without the built-in adaptability essential to respond to future challenges.

The presence of plant genetic diversity in production systems (in the form of seeds and the planting material of vegetatively propagated crops) is therefore essential to ensuring sustainable, adaptive and resilient food production systems that meet the needs of rural communities and Indigenous Peoples. It is an essential ingredient of agroecological approaches of production (see e.g., Altieri, 1999). Access to such diversity can provide direct benefit to the 500 million family farms that, according to recent estimates by IFAD, produce over 70 per cent of the world’s food, 475 million of which are farms of less than two hectares.

“For the majority of smallholder farmers, traditional, informal seeds systems, based on farmer maintained seeds, exchanges between neighbouring or distant farmers, and local markets, still provide up to 90 per cent of the seed and planting material grown.”

While many countries have developed formal seed systems selling commercial varieties (often protected by IPRs), they only represent a fraction of the seeds planted in developing countries. For the majority of smallholder farmers, traditional, informal seeds systems (Almekinders and de Boef, 2000), based on farmer maintained seeds, exchanges between neighbouring or distant farmers, and local markets, still provide up to 90 per cent of the seed and planting material grown (McGuire and Sperling, 2013; McGuire and Sperling, 2016). The support for, and improvement of, these farmer managed seed systems is an important objective.

This report evaluates the available knowledge and range of existing efforts to protect, restore and advance the maintenance of seed-based agrobiodiversity and the sources of support for such efforts. It explores strategic opportunities to strengthen the growing range of community based efforts and identifies options for future support. It is based on a review and assessment of available information supported by interviews with a selected range of key informants (see Appendices 3 and 4 for a description of methodology and informants).

Overview of current efforts

In this report, “seed diversity” includes the propagating materials of different varieties, clones and populations of agricultural crops. Thus, as well as seed, it includes roots and tubers, cuttings, rootstocks and all other materials that are used for propagation by rural communities (Jarvis et al., 2005). The crops may be annual or perennial, inbreeding, outbreeding or clonally propagated with many or few recognized traditional varieties depending on the practices, knowledge systems and cultures of the societies involved. The focus of this section is on work done largely with local communities.

“While there has certainly been a substantial loss of diversity from many production systems, the general assumption of the 1980s and 1990s that traditional varieties (landraces) were destined inevitably to disappear from all production systems has not materialized.”

While there has certainly been a substantial loss of diversity from many production systems, the general assumption of the 1980s and 1990s that traditional varieties (landraces) were destined inevitably to disappear from all production systems has not materialized. These varieties continue to form an essential part of many production systems throughout the world, especially in marginal production areas and those subject to significant stresses (e.g., drought). This is not always just a local phenomenon, as shown with pearl millet and sorghum in Niger and Mali where diversity was found to be stable or increased in both of these countries during the 25 years from the mid 1970s to early 2000s (Vigouroux et al., 2011).

Following the work of Altieri and Merrick (1987) and of Brush (1995), studies over the last 20 years on the maintenance of traditional varieties and locally important crops, and the work done to support their continued conservation in situ, have resulted in a much clearer understanding of their role in traditional production systems, including the contribution they continue to make to rural livelihoods and cultures, the factors that contribute to their continued use, and the barriers to their continued maintenance. Some of the main findings are summarized in the next paragraphs (see Jarvis et al., 2016 for an extended treatment).

Understanding the factors affecting on-farm diversity maintenance

The reasons for maintaining crop genetic diversity in the form of traditional varieties include: stability and risk avoidance; resilience, adaptation and adaptability to variable, difficult or marginal environments and to environmental change; provision of key ecosystem services such as pest and disease control, pollinator diversity, below ground diversity and soil health; socio-economic contributions such as meeting changing market demands, coping with distance to market and adult labour availability; dietary or nutritional value; and meeting cultural and religious needs (see review by Jarvis et al., 2011 and references therein). Often, a number of these reasons operate together and result in cultivation of traditional varieties in a significant part of a production system in combination with modern varieties (e.g., Rana et al., 2007).

“It is not unknown for Andean farmers to plant over 60 varieties of potato. Similar numbers of rice varieties were maintained by farmers in mid-altitude Nepal.”

Traditional production systems are dynamic. The crops and varieties change over time reflecting the changing production conditions (e.g., climate change, movement of people to cities) and changing agronomic practices (e.g., Bezançon et al., 2009; Deu et al., 2010). Many farmers continually seek to adapt their materials and access new materials that will improve their production within frameworks of risk avoidance and securing stable production. Yet traditional varieties often continue to provide a culturally desirable, risk-avoiding basis for production.

Traditional production systems often contain very large numbers of varieties of major crops. It is not unknown for Andean farmers to plant over 60 varieties of potato (Brush, 1995). Similar numbers of rice varieties were maintained by farmers in mid-altitude Nepal (Jarvis et al., 2008). However, diversity in many traditional production systems is often found to be lower than that desired by the communities who identify lack of range of desired varieties as a key problem in participatory rural appraisal processes (Jarvis et al., 2011). Thus farmers in Nepal in the high altitude area of Jumla still maintain and use more than 30 varieties of rice but none possess resistance to rice blast, a major disease of the area (Bajracharya et al., 2006). Similarly, farmers sometimes lack varieties with the temperature or drought tolerance traits required to cope with changing climatic conditions (Jarvis et al., 2011) or with changing patterns of labour availability. These limitations are discussed further below.

Seed availability can best be understood in terms of the operation of more or less complex seed systems—social institutions that mediate seed exchange and access (Almekinders and de Boef, 2000; Fig. 1). For most rural communities throughout the developing world, the informal parts of the system are responsible for 90 per cent of seed supply. Farmers often seek to maintain their own seeds from season to season but, according to McGuire and Sperling (2016) who surveyed large numbers of farmers in six countries, over 50 per cent of seed is purchased mostly from local markets but also from neighbours, friends or relatives. The ways in which local seed systems operate are key to the maintenance of seed diversity within production systems (Patausso et al., 2013).

“Traditional, informal seed systems are not perfect. They may need improvements in terms of the phytosanitary quality of the seeds, and seed storage from season to season, or for longer periods, may present challenges. This does not mean they should be abandoned, but rather improved from that perspective while maintaining the advantages mentioned above.”

Effective seed systems provide the necessary mechanisms for access and exchange of materials needed by farmers. Seed systems support the maintenance of diversity of both rare and common varieties (Thomas et al., 2015) and support the genetic processes that allow evolution and adaptation and support resilience (e.g., migration, gene flow, selection, recombination) (Hodgkin et al., 2007). However, traditional, informal seed systems are not perfect. They may need improvements in terms of the phytosanitary quality of the seeds, and seed storage from season to season, or for longer periods, may present challenges. This does not mean they should be abandoned, but rather improved from that perspective while maintaining the advantages mentioned above.

The view that farmers and rural communities cannot manage the complexity of agrobiodiversity has now been disproved in many parts of the world. Indeed, more commonly, modern agricultural production approaches are unable to manage this complexity. They are driven to oversimplify farmer diversity based management of agroecosystems with its emphasis on monocultures based on a few uniform varieties. Many descriptions of the richness and complexity of traditional production systems and the seed systems that sustain them can be found (see Jarvis et al., 2008 for more than 20 crops in eight countries; see Jarvis et al., 2011 for references or Jackson et al., 2007; FAO/PAR, 2011). Coomes et al (2015) have recently challenged four beliefs about seed systems that they consider are unfounded:

  1. Farmer seed networks are inefficient for seed dissemination.
  2. Farmer seed networks are closed, conservative systems.
  3. Farmer seed networks provide ready, egalitarian access to seed.
  4. Farmer seed networks are destined to weaken and disappear.

Interviews with those directly involved in the maintenance of seed diversity for the preparation of this paper confirmed these findings and noted, in particular, issues of access, especially access to sources with a range of diverse materials. Fig. 1 illustrates the richness and complexity of seed systems.

Fig. 1. A generic representation of seed systems to show the interconnections present in the system (modified from Almekinders and de Boef, 2000; see Jarvis et al., 2016)

The work of the last few decades has led to the development of a number of tested practices that support the maintenance of traditional varieties and minor crops and contribute to what is also called dynamic conservation. General frameworks that can guide interventions have been developed such as the Community Biodiversity Management (CBM) approach (Sthapit et al., 2006, Appendix 2; de Boef et al., 2013) and Scaling Up Pathways, developed from the three-year global program “Putting lessons into practice: Scaling up People’s Biodiversity Management for Food Security” (Oxfam Novib et al., 2015). The practices in both these programs are similar and include these actions to support biodiversity:

  • Baseline assessment of diversity (or PGRFA toolkit)
  • Building community management systems and awareness
  • Strengthening capacity through farmer field schools or diversity field fora
  • Improving access to seed diversity and securing availability through, e.g., community seed banks
  • Developing links between community and national agricultural programs

Other activities regarded as necessary include support for adaptation to climate change, the explicit inclusion of gender dimensions, and the advocacy required to ensure appropriate supportive national policy frameworks.

Crop improvement, through participatory variety selection (PVS) or participatory plant breeding (PPB), has been an important feature of many of the actions to support diversity maintenance (Sthapit et al., 1996; Ceccarelli and Grando, 2009). This may simply take the form of reselection from an existing range of seed lots of a single traditional variety, by the farmers themselves and based on their knowledge and appreciation of the materials. The development and distribution of the Nepalese rice variety Jethobudho is an example of this (Gyawali et al., 2006). However, it has also involved more substantial plant breeding efforts involving the cross-breeding and selection of improved materials, often using newly introduced materials to provide characteristics needed by farmers but not available in their existing materials. Improving seed quality has also been a common feature of many interventions.

Box 1
Supporting seed diversity: Example of success from Begnas, Nepal
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One compelling example of community biodiversity management is the restoration of the Rupa lake watershed in Begnas, in the Lekhnath Municipality in Kaski district of Nepal. The Begnas landscape lies in a Himalayan valley, with the elevation ranging from 600 to around 1,400 metres above sea level. It comprises a mosaic of Rupa and Begnas lakes, wetlands, forests, rice terraces, agroforestry gardens and grazing areas. Affirming a common vision and their commitment to conservation, the local communities and the Lekhnath Municipality have declared the landscape a pilot project for an agrobiodiversity conservation area. The work began in the mid 1990s, supported by Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD) in collaboration with national and international research organizations. It has included substantial investigation of—and support for—the crop seed diversity in the area.

CBM is embodied by a local farmers’ umbrella organization called the Jaibik Shrot Samarachyan Abhiyan (Bio-Resources Conservation Movement), which brings together three cooperatives, seven community development committees and five women’s groups. Each of the 15 groups affiliated with Jaibik Shrot is entrusted with specific conservation responsibilities, including documentation of local knowledge on genetic resources through community biodiversity registers (CBRs). The CBRs contain information about more than 440 species and crop varieties, including 111 wild medicinal or non-timber species and 92 wild food and timber species.

Jabik Shrot has also supported and expanded the existing seed networks, ensuring that critically endangered but valuable varieties (such as Anadi rice) were multiplied and made more widely available. Additionally, sponge gourd, cucumber and taro diversity has also been made available and the group has supported PPB activities aimed at improving local rice varieties.

The work has involved decades of collaboration involving CARE Nepal, LI-BIRD, Nepal Agriculture Research Council, Bioversity International and their various projects in the Begnas landscape.

Source: Sthapit S et al, 2014

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“National policies, programs and regulations play a key role in supporting or (more usually) limiting the ability of farmers to access or maintain their traditional varieties.”

The diversity maintained by rural farming communities exists within a wider landscape, a regional or even national framework. National policies, programs and regulations play a key role in supporting or (more usually) limiting the ability of farmers to access or maintain their traditional varieties (Jarvis et al., 2016, Chapter 10). The period when national programs actively sought to destroy traditional varieties is largely passed but there are still substantially negative perceptions as to either the value or need to maintain this diversity. At the same time, many grassroots and national civil society organizations, such as Asociación ANDES in Peru, Gene Campaign in India, LI-BIRD in Nepal, SEARICE in Southeast Asia and Community Technology Development Organisation in Zimbabwe, have become actively involved in supporting seed diversity. The most successful interventions seem to have been those which bring together national agricultural programs with civil society groups, a model pioneered by Bioversity International (then IPGRI) in the 1990s (see Boxes below for examples).

Originally seen in largely biological terms, research soon made clear the importance of community-level social institutions and socio-economic factors in supporting the availability of seed diversity. Key factors that were identified included economic value, the relative roles of men and women, the importance of cultural dimensions and social institutions. As noted above, the social networks that mediated seed access were found to be particularly important and a number of key players were identified through network analysis, particularly nodal farmers (who played a major role in seed supply) and custodian farmers who were seen to play a major role in the maintenance of a wide range of diverse varieties of different crops (Subedi et al., 2003; Sthapit et al., 2013). Nodal farmers were later found to change to some extent over a number of seasons.

In many communities, while the capacity and knowledge involved in maintenance and cultivation of a wide diversity of crops and varieties still exists, in others it is retained only by older members of the community and is disappearing. The use of diversity in a production system is a knowledge-rich characteristic, often linked to cultural practices based on traditional knowledge. It has been shown that such traditional knowledge, linked with new skills, plays an important part in adaptation to climate change by rural communities and Indigenous Peoples (Mijatovic et al., 2013). As Mijatovic et al. (op. cit.) noted, supporting seed diversity in production systems has often involved validating and using traditional knowledge together with new information and technologies.

Early research largely focused on in situ conservation of traditional crop varieties and was concerned with describing the extent and distribution of this diversity and the different factors that influenced its maintenance (e.g. Brush, 2000). In recent years, more attention has been paid to the mechanisms and the features of rural communities that support maintenance and the functions that crop and seed diversity fulfill in production systems. This is reflected in the activities of some of the major players undertaking or supporting such work; for example, Bioversity International undertakes large projects that focus on three aspects: (1) the role of varietal and crop diversity in pest and disease control (Mulumba et al., 2012; Jarvis et al., 2012); (2) the ways in which crop and varietal diversity can support adaptation to climate change and the mechanisms (e.g., crowdsourcing distribution, improved market chains to provide economic benefits) that can increase availability of diversity (see http://www.bioversityinternational.org/seeds-for-needs/ and below); and (3) the role of policy, economics and markets in supporting diversity maintenance (e.g., Lipper et al., 2010). The Global Environment Facility (GEF) has also provided significant support in the last two decades, and continues to fund a number of projects (especially The United Nations Environment Programme; see UNEP-GEF, 2010). These too increasingly focus on the function of diversity in production systems and what is needed to mainstream diversity maintenance into production systems. Oxfam Novib has also moved into a new phase of support for biodiversity management through its current program on scaling up pathways in peoples’ biodiversity management, which is now expanding to additional countries the work previously undertaken in Peru, Vietnam and Zimbabwe (Oxfam Novib et al., 2015).

Policies affecting access to diversity of seeds

The policy environment regarding agricultural biodiversity in general and PGRFA in particular is rather complex and we will cover only the most important aspects without going into details (see Halewood et al., 2013; Jarvis et al., 2016, Chapters 3, 10 for further information). This policy environment has changed drastically in the last 35 years or so.

“In 1983 plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) were recognized in an international treaty as the common heritage of humankind and as such were to be freely available.”

Until the early 1980s there were no specific policies at either international or national levels outside of plant variety protection legislation which affected only commercially bred varieties. Outside of these, seeds were considered a public good and were commonly exchanged among farmers and researchers alike. In 1983 plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) were recognized in an international treaty as the common heritage of humankind and as such were to be freely available. But with the increasing privatization of PGRFA through plant variety protection laws, the imbalance between the breeder’s rights and the rights of the custodians of the PGRFA—i.e., the farmers—increased significantly, and many developing countries wanted to rectify this imbalance.

This led to the negotiation and adoption in 1992 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which recognizes the sovereign rights of states over the genetic resources (GR) within their boundaries, the need obtain prior informed consent to access GR and the sharing of benefits on mutually agreed upon terms. The importance and special nature of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture were recognized, which led to the negotiation of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA or Plant Treaty) and its adoption in 2001, which attempts to recreate a “commons” for PGRFA of the most important crops through the multilateral system of access and benefit sharing, and recognizes both breeder’s rights and farmers rights.

Box 2
Supporting seed diversity: Example of success from the Potato Park, Peru
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The Potato Park (Parque de la papa) is a locally managed Indigenous Biocultural Territory using the Indigenous Biocultural Heritage Area (IBCHA) model developed by Asociación ANDES, a local NGO. IBCHA incorporates the best of contemporary science, conservation models and rights-based governance approaches, including the IUCN’s Category V Protected Areas, as well as positive and defensive protection mechanisms for safeguarding the collective biocultural heritage (CBCH) of Indigenous Peoples. The total population is about 3,900 from six different communities.

The main subsistence activity in the Potato Park is agriculture and animal husbandry. A bit more than 13 per cent of the park area (approximately 1,133 hectares) is used for the permanent agriculture of corn, tarwi, potatoes, beans, barley and other crops, while 34 per cent of the park area is made up of tundra or land which is resting. Crop rotation occurs every three to nine years. First, farmers cultivate potatoes, masha and oca, then the land is left fallow. During fallow periods, many medicinal plants can be found growing in these plots.

Much of the work on maintaining crop diversity has been led by Asociación ANDES and supported by numerous different donors including The Christensen Fund. The activities have included repatriation of over 400 local varieties of potato from the Centro Internacional de la Papa (CIP), adaptation to climate change, capacity-building, income generation and eco-tourism. While the core work is self-sustaining, ANDES is involved with work with many donors to extend the reach of these activities and expand into new areas.

Source: http://www.parquedelapapa.org/; http://www.andes.org.pe

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“At the international level, both the CBD and the Plant Treaty provide a supportive policy environment for the conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA and foresee the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their use. Of particular relevance are the farmers’ rights. Yet so far, very few countries have implemented national legislation to implement farmers’ rights.”

At the international level, both the CBD and the Plant Treaty provide a supportive policy environment for the conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA and foresee the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their use. Of particular relevance are the farmers’ rights, (Article 9 of the Plant Treaty. See: http://www.planttreaty.org/content/texts-treaty-official-versions) specifically: (1) the right to protect traditional knowledge relevant to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; (2) the right to equitably participate in sharing benefits arising from the utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; (3) the right to participate in making decisions at the national level on matters related to the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; and (4) the right to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed/propagating material, subject to national law and as appropriate. Nevertheless, while the Plant Treaty is a legally binding agreement in international law, the responsibility for realizing farmers’ rights, as they relate to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, rests with national governments. So far, very few countries have implemented national legislation to implement farmers’ rights.

At the national and regional levels, access to seeds is mainly affected by seed legislation, aiming at ensuring the agronomic value and the quality of seeds being sold, and by intellectual property protection legislation (plant breeder rights or patents) aimed at supporting crop improvement by granting breeders the exclusive right to exploit, for a number of years, the plant varieties they develop. Both types of legislation and related policies support a formal seed system for commercial varieties. These policies and legislation mostly have negative consequences for the informal seed systems which are the main source of seed for smallholder farmers in developing countries and for farmers globally who grow traditional or heirloom varieties. Indeed, the varieties grown by these farmers are genetically diverse and do not satisfy the “uniformity” and “stability” requirements of both types of legislation. The consequence is that farmers are either forbidden to sell their seed or are allowed only to sell small quantities.

Other policies that can represent obstacles to the continued use of diverse seed include subsidies for improved commercial seed, strict prescription by extension services and governmental regulations about which varieties a farmer should or can grow.

Box 3
Supporting seed diversity: Example of success from Goromonzi District, Zimbabwe
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The work was funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Oxfam Novib and led by the Community Technology Development Trust (now the Community Technology Development Organisation) (CTDO), Zimbabwe. The number of primary target households involved was 6,720. They chose farmers who grew—on average—five to six different crops and three to four varieties of each crop; a mix of traditional and modern varieties. The program’s intervention led to an increase in the number of varieties per household from three to five. The intervention involved establishing 65 farmer field schools (FFS). There were 750 farmers trained in small grain production through the FFS. They produced 17 tonnes of pearl millet seed and seven tonnes of sorghum seed, which have been sold locally. Through the program, two sorghum varieties from the gene bank and four local varieties from Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe district, which had been lost from the farming systems, were reintroduced. On the policy side, a new Farmers’ Rights Bill between CTDT staff and officers and Ministry of Agriculture officials was drafted. In addition, an alliance with the Zimbabwe Farmers Union ensured outreach to more than 10,000 farmers in neighbouring districts.

Source: Oxfam Novib et al., 2015

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Nonetheless, it should be noted that appropriate policies can also promote access to diversity through support to farmer maintained varieties, community seed banks, participatory plant breeding and seed diversity fairs. Such support may be through national legislation, regulations, guidelines, national plans, financial support, or decisions that favour the use of greater diversity by local, regional or national authorities. At the national level, the full implementation of farmers’ rights as enshrined in the Plant Treaty is perhaps the single most important step. Different countries have also taken steps to support community seed banks (e.g., Nepal, Brazil, and Mexico) embedding them into their conservation system. In the state of Paraiba in Brazil a special program allows the state government to buy seeds of local varieties and distribute them among farmers (see case studies cited in Vernooy et al., 2015; Jarvis et al., 2016 Chapter 10).

Funding Streams

“Funding for informal seed systems and on-farm management of agrobiodiversity has so far been limited and very dispersed when compared with investments in ex situ conservation. Both the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and the governing body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture have asked for more investment to be made in this area; however, these recommendations have not yet been translated into significant investments.”

Funding for informal seed systems and on-farm management of agrobiodiversity has so far been limited and very dispersed when compared with investments in ex situ conservation. It involves many isolated actors, including NGOs, foundations, international organizations and bilateral donors. In recent years, this area of work has been receiving more attention, and both the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and the governing body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture have asked for more investment to be made in this area; however, these recommendations have not yet been translated into significant investments. In general, the donors listed below have funded a mix of activities which includes action research, support for farmer managed systems and advocacy. Early development aid donors focused more on research and community based support, while NGOs included support for advocacy. The Oxfam Novib program emphasizes the importance of combining these areas of activity in the work it supports, exemplifying a trend towards a more integrated approach.

Among international NGOs (INGOs), three are implementing substantial work on traditional seed systems and on-farm agrobiodiversity management. These are the Norwegian Development Fund (a Norwegian NGO supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Oxfam Novib and USC Canada. In addition, many other INGOs support local initiatives at a smaller scale.

Among the development aid donor countries only a few are supporting significant work in this area. Currently it seems that Canada, Norway and Switzerland are the major donors. The first two work mainly through NGOs based in their country (USC for Canada and the Norwegian Development Fund for Norway). Switzerland is supporting work by Bioversity International, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), the Berne Convention, the African Centre for Biodiversity and BioVision. The Belgian Development Cooperation has recently shifted the emphasis of its support in Central and West Africa away from formal, commercial seed systems to informal seed systems, farmer field schools and agroecology. Germany, through GTZ (now GIZ) has invested significantly in seed systems and agrobiodiversity in the past, but this is no longer a priority in the German development cooperation agenda.

A number of members of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food have been supporting projects on relevant areas, either directly or through general support to community based organizations that carry out relevant work in this area. This topic has been gaining importance on the agenda of foundations such as The Christensen Fund, Agropolis Foundation, the Kalliopeia Foundation, the New Field Foundation, the Swift Foundation and The Tudor Trust. In addition, The McKnight Foundation, The Heinrich Böll Foundation, and Fondation Daniel & Nina Carasso, amongst others, have supported projects that include relevant components.

Among other private foundations, the topics of informal seed systems, on-farm management of agrobiodiversity and agroecology have also gained greater interest in recent years. For example, the Fondation Charles Léopold Mayer pour le Progrès de l’Homme is supporting significant informal seed system work in France, and the W. Garfield Weston Foundation is supporting work in Canada through USC Canada. A German foundation called Welthungerhilfe (WHH), is also supporting work in Cuba through USC.

A number of other foundations provide more modest support to this area of work, either directly or indirectly through support to NGOs that have some activities in this broad area. They include: Bread for All, Switzerland; Brot für die Welt, Germany; Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust, United States; CS Fund, U.S.; Misereor/KZE, Germany; Swissaid, Switzerland; La Fondation Léa Nature, France; Fondation de France, France; Fondation Un Monde par Tous, France; La Fondation Terra Symbiosis, France; Fondation Nature et Découvertes, France; Petzl Foundation, France; and The Salvia Foundation, Switzerland. [Note: This is by no means an exhaustive list. It is merely a compilation of information provided to us by interviewees or on the websites of a few organizations with relevant activities.]

The ITPGRFA Fund has called for proposals that include on-farm conservation of PGRFA; a number of projects have been funded. The UNEP-GEF program has made significant investments in agrobiodiversity conservation and the GEF-6 Strategy includes a new program called ”Securing Agriculture’s Future: Sustainable Use of Plant and Animal Genetic Resources,” which aims to support in situ conservation by local communities. It will focus on farmer management, support for livelihoods and food, and nutrition security through community based management of crop and animal diversity (GEF-6 Programming Directions paras. 71-72). The UNDP-GEF small grants program has recently consulted with countries in Latin America which have expressed a strong interest in applying for small grants to support work about on-farm management of agrobiodiversity and implementation of farmers’ rights. Similar consultations are taking place in Asia and Africa.

“Although there appears to be an overall steady increase in funding for work about the on-farm management of agrobiodiversity, the scattergun approach, characteristic of current efforts, has limitations. For this work to gain momentum and visibility, to attract more support globally, and to be more efficient in scaling up and scaling out successful initiatives, an effort to bring together a number of different funders would be most beneficial.”

Several governments of countries in the Global South have started to invest in programs that support farmer managed seed systems and on-farm management of agrobiodiversity. These include India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka in Asia; Ethiopia, South Africa and Zimbabwe in Africa; and Brazil and Peru in Latin America. Although there appears to be an overall steady increase in funding for work about the on-farm management of agrobiodiversity, the scattergun approach, characteristic of current efforts, has limitations. For this work to gain momentum and visibility, to attract more support globally, and to be more efficient in scaling up and scaling out successful initiatives, an effort to bring together a number of different funders would be most beneficial (see section below on strategic opportunities).

Barriers and challenges

There are significant barriers to the deployment of increased seed diversity in production systems and a number of powerful drivers have contributed to a reduction in the diversity in production systems.

Table 1 below lists drivers affecting biodiversity that were identified in country reports prepared for the forthcoming first Report on the State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture (SoWBFA) currently being prepared for the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA). These drivers also affect the continuing availability of seed diversity, although some have a greater effect than others. Those of particular importance to seed diversity include changes in land use, pests and diseases, markets and trade, policies, movement from rural areas to cities, changes in economic, socio-political and cultural factors, and scientific and technical advances in the form of new varieties. This last driver has been supported by the increasing privatization of plant breeding and the large investments of multinational companies in the development of a global, vertically integrated seed industry.

Table 1. Drivers of change of biodiversity for food and agriculture
Changes in land / water use/management
Pollution and external inputs
Over-exploitation and over-harvesting
Climate change
Natural disasters
Pests, diseases, and alien invasive species
Markets, trade, and the private sector
Policies
Population growth and urbanization
Changing economic, socio-political, and cultural factors
Advances and innovations in science and technology

How do these drivers influence seed diversity at landscape or community levels? Jarvis et al. (2011) reviewed over 500 papers on the maintenance of traditional varieties and developed a framework to identify the main constraints to the continuing use of such varieties. They identified four main limitations:

  1. Local crop genetic diversity does not exist or is not in sufficient quantities within the production system.
  2. Local crop genetic diversity exists but is not accessible to farmers.
  3. Farmers do not value and use local crop genetic resources.
  4. Farmers do not benefit from the use of local crop genetic diversity.

Jarvis et al (op. cit.) summarized the causes of these different situations and noted the importance of policy constraints, resource limitations, the effectiveness of seed networks, the strength of social institutions, the realization of market and non-market benefits, available knowledge, and the quality of the materials (both seed and agronomic).

Anyone using an intervention to strengthen seed diversity might find it useful to follow the approach developed by Jarvis and her collaborators as part of a diagnostic and baseline analysis and to review, specifically, the extent to which seed networks exist and have the potential to ensure that benefits from interventions are sustained (see Appendix 1).

“Seed networks illustrate the importance of social institutions in improving seed diversity, and the weakness of these institutions was identified as a major barrier to the success of interventions by those interviewed during the preparation of this paper.”

Seed networks illustrate the importance of social institutions in improving seed diversity, and the weakness of these institutions was identified as a major barrier to the success of interventions by those interviewed during the preparation of this paper. The importance of social institutions has also been described by van Oudenhoven et al. (2011) in their work on the development of social-ecological resilience indicators. Often more formal structures are needed to strengthen the functions of social institutions and the development of community based organizations (CBOs) has been identified as a key step in supporting diversity maintenance by Sthapit et al. (2006). Such organizations provide an operational framework at a community level from which to address specific challenges such as lack of shared knowledge or access to materials. They can also support the realization of both market and non-market benefits.

The nature and role of local organizations varies. The Oxfam Novib and Hivos joint program places emphasis on Farmer Field Schools as a continuing way to bring farmers together in a community to share knowledge and address challenges. Both CBOs and FFSs support the introduction of new knowledge and materials, and the absence of effective local organizations is clearly an important constraint. Community seed banks may need external funding for their establishment, but the different approaches that have been developed involve operating practices aimed at ensuring a rapid move towards self-sufficiency in their maintenance of operations. Even so, participating farmers often remain linked to NGOs and national agricultural agencies which continue to provide advice and are a potential source of new materials of interest to them. (For a review of practices and experiences, see Vernooy et al., 2015).

A major challenge in many countries is the weakness of their national agricultural systems and their limited capacity to support community based interventions. This can be an advantage in that communities are left to find their own solutions and thereby gain a freedom of operation that might otherwise not exist. However, in the longer term, and with the objective of ensuring and mainstreaming diversity into production systems, national agricultural systems will need to be engaged and involved. This is emphasized by the Oxfam Novib program and by the different GEF supported projects. Their involvement also provides one entry point for addressing policy issues. Successful community initiatives still operate within a national, or even regional, policy framework, especially as these affect access and distribution of seeds and varieties, participatory crop improvement or marketing.

“Efforts to remove policies that undermine, and to develop policies that support, have to be integral parts of all interventions.”

Supportive national and regional policies are important prerequisites for successful scaling up and mainstreaming of on-farm management of diversity. Attention needs to be paid in any intervention to the negative or positive effects that policies will have. Efforts to remove policies that undermine, and to develop policies that support, have to be integral parts of all interventions. National or local civil society organizations are often important partners in this regard. While interventions need to be community based, questions remain concerning the scale at which interventions are most useful.

“Landscape approaches bring benefits involving larger numbers of farmers who share common features with respect to their production system (some examples include the work undertaken in Kaski, Nepal and by ANDES in Peru). They can reflect more closely the full extent of seed networks and support a greater access to, and exchange of, materials.”

Earlier research-based projects concentrated on single communities or villages, but more recent work has involved larger areas and has adopted what has been described as a more landscape-based approach. Landscape approaches bring benefits involving larger numbers of farmers who share common features with respect to their production system (some examples include the work undertaken in Kaski, Nepal and by ANDES in Peru). They can reflect more closely the full extent of seed networks and support a greater access to, and exchange of, materials. On the other hand, from a research perspective, landscape approaches can require greater investment in terms of sampling and establishing the baseline. As the Oxfam Novib and Bioversity Seeds for Needs programs suggest, perhaps the real challenge is to scale out beyond a single landscape.

Interviews conducted for this report confirmed the analysis above. The barriers below were most frequently mentioned, in no particular order.

  • Low awareness by policy makers about the key roles of agricultural diversity, in situ and on-farm conservation and community based diversity management
  • Lack of funding for such activities
  • Lack of information and capacity of farmer and community based organizations
  • Legal/policy restrictions on local seed saving and exchange at national, regional and international levels
  • National policies, laws and practices that promote industrial agriculture
  • Limited examples of policies and laws that support this kind of work
  • Strong private sector promotion and distribution of improved commercial varieties and associated technology packages based on synthetic inputs
  • Lack of access by farmers to genetic resources in gene banks
  • Socio-cultural prejudices and negation of traditional knowledge by academia and institutional settings and national agricultural programs
  • Lack of support for participatory plant variety selection and breeding programs
  • Lack of producers of diverse seed materials.

The analysis of barriers and challenges emphasizes the importance of a community-level, participatory, farmer driven approach, and the need for policy and institutional frameworks that can support these, providing partnerships, benefits of scale, access to new knowledge and varieties that complement traditional knowledge, experience and materials. The analysis also emphasizes the importance of combining agricultural and biological aspects with social and economic perspectives and recognizing the potentially constraining effects of national and regional policies.

Strategic opportunities

“While recent decades have revealed a continuing trend towards industrial agriculture based on simplified production systems and increasing monocultures, the value and benefits of diversity-rich production systems have also been increasingly recognized. There are good reasons to suggest that significant opportunities now exist to increase support for actions that strengthen the maintenance and use of diversity on farms.”

While recent decades have revealed a continuing trend towards industrial agriculture based on simplified production systems and increasing monocultures, the value and benefits of diversity-rich production systems have also been increasingly recognized. There are good reasons to suggest that significant opportunities now exist to increase support for actions that strengthen the maintenance and use of diversity on farms. The most important are:

  • the recognition of the value of agroecological approaches;
  • the need to support adaptation to climate change and improve resilience in production systems;
  • the increasing demand of many stakeholders (including consumers) for changes in currently dysfunctional food systems; and
  • the importance of diversity in improving food security and nutrition.

Underpinning these is the recognition of the need to develop more sustainable approaches to agricultural production.

“Crop and traditional variety diversity make important, though perhaps under-recognized, contributions to the ecological processes needed for agroecology to succeed.”

Agroecology
The management and use of biodiversity underpins agroecology. Soil health, pest and disease management, improved nutrient cycling, better use of water and management of abiotic stresses all depend, to a greater or lesser extent, on ensuring that the biodiversity needed to support these processes is present in and around production systems. The agrobiodiversity community increasingly recognizes this with its focus on the function of diversity within production systems. Crop and traditional variety diversity make important, though perhaps under-recognized, contributions to the ecological processes needed for agroecology to succeed, especially with respect to pest and disease control and abiotic stress management (see e.g., Mulumba et al., 2012; Hajjar et al., 2008). There remains, however, a disconnect between the actors who are concerned with strengthening agrobiodiversity in production and those whose entry point is agroecology.

Climate change and resilience
Mijatovic et al (2013) have shown that Indigenous and rural communities have made significant use of agrobiodiversity in adaptation to climate change. The Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA), at its last meeting, adopted a set of guidelines to support the use of genetic resources for adaptation to climate change that closely followed the approach of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in its own guidelines on the development of National Adaptation Plans of Action.

“Both widely adapted robust traditional varieties and new varieties from other parts of the world will be an essential part of national adaptation strategies.”

Production systems are not only experiencing changing climates, they are subject to climate regimes which have not previously existed in other parts of the world. Both widely adapted robust traditional varieties and new varieties from other parts of the world will be an essential part of national adaptation strategies. Increased diversity in production systems will be needed to provide the necessary portfolio effect, future option strategies, and resilience benefits needed.

Bioversity’s Seeds for Needs program explores one approach that can support increased availability and access to variety diversity for smallholder farmers. The process involves identification of a set of crop materials—including both traditional and modern varieties—that are distributed to farmers (three varieties per farmer) using a crowdsourcing approach. Farmers provide feedback by mobile phone, and the information from all the different farmers in the region is integrated to provide variety recommendations and support wider dissemination of materials through community seed banks and farmer-to-farmer exchange. In Ethiopia there are now 2000 farmers involved, and over 400 varieties have been tested. In India some 15,000 farmers are now reported to be participating.

“Over-nutrition or obesity, and its associated non-communicable diseases—including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and different types of cancers—have now become the largest cause of mortality in both low and middle income countries. It is recognized that greater diversity, especially underutilized species, play a key role in providing the dietary mix necessary for a healthy life.”

Malnutrition
In recent years, there has been an increased recognition of the societal impact of different forms of malnutrition; not just hunger or under-nutrition, traditionally the focus of food security concerns for many years, but also micronutrient malnutrition and over-nutrition/obesity. Micronutrient malnutrition is affecting more than two billion people, undermining their developmental potential with a direct impact on national productivity. Over-nutrition or obesity, and its associated non-communicable diseases—including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and different types of cancers—have now become the largest cause of mortality in both low and middle income countries. It is recognized that greater diversity, especially underutilized species, play a key role in providing the dietary mix necessary for a healthy life (Frison et al., 2011; Carletto et al., 2015).

Demand-led change
It is frequently claimed that the global food system is dysfunctional and unsustainable, involving massive subsidies and substantial waste while still not meeting the challenges of dealing with hunger and malnutrition. A growing movement of consumers is seeking alternative solutions through support for local food sources, organically produced products and, in Europe, a continuing suspicion of technological approaches, particularly reflected in a negative attitude towards genetically modified foods.

At the same time, there has been significant growth in civil society activities that challenge many of the current industrial farming approaches to food production. This is exemplified by support for food sovereignty, the growth of the Slow Food movement, and the increasing activities of organizations such as La Via Campesina and seed savers groups. Other rural groups have shown increasing interest in food-based issues, particularly the Indigenous Peoples’ movements around the world.

“The increasing demand for alternative approaches to production, with a trend towards agroecology and diversified production using traditional varieties, is a reality that presents an important opportunity.”

These different trends have led to an increased interest in diversity-based production and the roles of traditional varieties, minor or neglected crops. This quest towards diversified approaches is often hijacked by agribusiness, as in the case of quinoa where very few varieties have come to dominate production with negative impact for the producers in the Andes using traditional varieties. However, the increasing demand for alternative approaches to production, with a trend towards agroecology and diversified production using traditional varieties, is a reality that presents an important opportunity.

Building alliances
Together with these major opportunities to obtain significant societal benefits from the increased use of seed diversity, there are opportunities to work with a number of organizations that have developed increasingly clear strategies and actions that support this approach. The GEF Strategy now places emphasis on sustainable agriculture and directly supports actions to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets (of which Targets 7 and 13 are particularly relevant). It also includes a program (Programme 7) of direct relevance to the community maintenance of seed diversity. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have a clear target supporting the conservation of agrobiodiversity. Also, Oxfam Novib’s new program reflects a growing commitment from outside traditional conservation or agrobiodiversity based organizations.

“The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have a clear target supporting the conservation of agrobiodiversity.”

Other developments of this nature include the UNDP-GEF small grants program, which could provide a great opportunity for co-financing. The Small Grants program could fund grassroots activities in countries; while co-funding by other donors, including foundations, could support the necessary technical backstopping and capacity development that cannot be funded by the Small Grants program. FAR has been identifying funders who could provide this kind of co-financing.

A significant opportunity would be to establish a broad, collaborative initiative, based on a matching funding agreement between a number of foundations and bilateral donors. A number of bilateral donors supporting work in this area, and who have expressed an interest in doing more, could be approached with a proposal. In the past Norway has provided major funding for ex situ conservation of PGRFA through the Global Crop Diversity Trust, including US$23 million to the endowment fund and a 10-year grant of US$50 million. They have also provided support to the Benefit Sharing Fund of the ITPGRFA, which supports projects related to the on-farm conservation of PGRFA. The Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture is very supportive of on-farm management of diversity, and could support the idea of a joint effort in this area. Switzerland might be interested in joining forces through a collaborative initiative. It would therefore be very opportune for a group of foundations to approach Norway, Switzerland and potentially other donors with a concrete proposal to create a co-financing mechanism with a credible implementation mechanism. The possible focus of such alliances is discussed in the final section.

Opportunities for funders

“There are opportunities that could be seized to make a leap forward in scaling up and scaling out on-farm management of diversity and securing the access to the necessary seed diversity by farmers.”

As described above, there are opportunities that could be seized to make a leap forward in scaling up and scaling out on-farm management of diversity and securing the access to the necessary seed diversity by farmers. These opportunities could be made to converge in a major international effort to incorporate diverse, thriving, agroecology-based systems into the mainstream by developing a broad strategy including the elements described below and supported by a group of funders’ coordinating their efforts. Each funder could support activities in line with the broad strategy while focusing on those most in line with their mandates and priorities.

In each area, one important need is to create a stronger link between agroecology and agrobiodiversity-based approaches. This includes collaborative knowledge generation, the development of practices which build on experiences from both areas, policy links and collaboration on building capacity and advocacy.

From the consultations and analysis of the current situation, a broad consensus emerged about the areas that need support. These have been grouped into five categories:

1. Work at the community level

One of the most important actions needing to be funded is the strengthening of farmer and community based organizations that work to support community based and farmer driven seed systems. This includes in situ / on-farm seed conservation and use, seed banking, and participatory applied research (PVS and PPB) aimed at the development of a broad and diverse base of adapted plant genetic resources. This requires support for the launch, spread or deepening of local initiatives and the piloting of new innovations, as well as support to achieve scale through interaction with various levels of government and other key seed and food security actors.

This should not involve any long-term dependency on external support beyond that which already exists in agriculture (e.g., from government sources). The focus should be on improving access to a wider range of diversity using the approaches described in previous sections and linking these to improved livelihoods and income (see also Boxes 1, 2 and 3 for examples).

“There is a great need to strengthen knowledge exchange and networking. Support for farmer-to-farmer seed and related knowledge exchanges, and linking community seed banks to national and international gene banks would also be valuable.”

There is a great need to strengthen knowledge exchange and networking. Support for farmer-to-farmer seed and related knowledge exchanges, and linking community seed banks to national and international gene banks would also be valuable.

Support is needed for local organizations of smallholder farmers implementing work on agroecology, the dynamic management of biodiversity for food and agriculture at the field/landscape level and adding value at the local level through processing and marketing local varieties in local/regional markets. This will include:

  • opening up space at—or establishing—farmers’ markets, organizing seed and food fairs and making connections to market outlets in cities;
  • strengthening and supporting farmer organizations and social movements on policy matters central to their seed, food and livelihood systems; and
  • supporting the creation and strengthening of existing national/ regional networks of practitioners in the management of biodiversity for food and agriculture, such as farmers’ seed producer networks, fruit grower networks, vegetable seed savers, farmer bakers, and rural women processors.

“Many isolated community-based initiatives would benefit from technical and scientific backstopping to guide and share best practices for community seed banking, strengthening of informal seed systems and participatory plant breeding.”

2. Capacity-building and technical backstopping of community-level activities

There is a strong demand for building capacity of farmer and community based organizations as well as national researchers and extension agents in a broad range of domains including:

  • community organizational and technical skills (e.g., seed management, breeding techniques, and marketing skills);
  • community participation and bottom-up planning and decision making;
  • connecting local organizations/farmer communities with others doing similar work and having similar interests, in-country and across countries;
  • participatory varietal selection (PVS) and plant breeding (PPB);
  • community seed banking systems, seed storage techniques and appropriate technologies;
  • strengthening farmer and community based organizations in advocacy on seed, land, farmers’ rights; and
  • extension capacity within farmer associations and amongst farmers.

In addition, many isolated community-based initiatives would benefit from technical and scientific backstopping to guide and share best practices for community seed banking, strengthening of informal seed systems and participatory plant breeding.

“There is a need for more supportive and effective policies and laws, to remove obstacles and policies harming community based agrobiodiversity management, and to create a supportive framework for community based diversity management initiatives.”

3. Work to promote supportive policies

There is a need for more supportive and effective policies and laws, to remove obstacles and policies harming community based agrobiodiversity management, and to create a supportive framework for community based diversity management initiatives. While in some regions (e.g., the European Union and the Southern African Development Community) seed related legislation has been developed, most policies and laws are developed and implemented at the national or state level. Bioversity International has done important work in this area, and could provide the necessary backing to countries to develop supportive policies and remove the harmful ones.

Support is needed to create space for the participation of farmer organizations and social movements at policy fora at various levels, and strengthening and supporting them on policy matters that are central to their seed, food and livelihood systems. Civil society and farmers’ groups are already active in CBD, CGRFA, ITPGRFA and CFS (Committee on World Food Security) and their contribution to debates in these fora should be supported and strengthened. A stronger voice for farmer concerns about agrobiodiversity is needed in fora such as the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which itself needs a much more focused consideration of climate change and agriculture.

“There is a broad recognition for the important role of participatory, trans-disciplinary research in which farmers and researchers collaborate on equal footing and in which traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge are combined.”

4. Priority areas of research on seed agrobiodiversity and seed systems

There is a broad recognition for the important role of participatory, trans-disciplinary research in which farmers and researchers collaborate on equal footing and in which traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge are combined. Participatory research practices have been widely adopted and involve free, prior and informed consent (see http://agrobiodiversityplatform.org/climatechange/the-project/abd_and_cc_project_fpic/), shared identification of research issues, (see, for example, the debates held on agricultural research agendas for West Africa http://www.newfieldfound.org/pdfs/AccraWorkshopEnglish.pdf) the development of trans-disciplinary research agendas (Lang et al., 2012), participatory working practices, (Gonsalves, 2005) and the sharing of all findings with participating communities.

This analysis, and those interviewed, identified the need for more research into:

  • effective policy and legal mechanisms and incentives to support farmers and their organizations to make the best use of agricultural biodiversity and to have their voices and choices recognized and taken into consideration;
  • novel ways to make markets work for the custodians of agricultural biodiversity;
  • the direct nutritional benefits of diversified food production, diversified diets, and the enhanced nutritional value of farmer’s varieties and wild and semi-cultivated foods;
  • seed network building methodologies and strategies;
  • the functional contribution of seed diversity to agroecosystem properties including the provision of regulating, supporting and provisioning ecosystem services;
  • characterization of genetic resources adapted to local conditions; and
  • low cost seed conservation technologies.

“Advocacy is also needed to reform trade, and land and investment policies that are eroding community control of the commons, the natural resources, ecosystems and biodiversity, which are crucial to the long-term survival of family farming systems.”

5. Advocacy work

The low awareness by policy and decision makers about the key roles of agricultural diversity, in situ and on-farm conservation and community based diversity management is a major obstacle to mainstreaming such approaches. Therefore, advocacy is needed about the importance of these roles and other aspects, such as the impact of seed laws that undermine local seed saving. Advocacy is also needed to reform trade, and land and investment policies that are eroding community control of the commons, the natural resources, ecosystems and biodiversity, which are crucial to the long-term survival of family farming systems. Assisting farmers and civil society organizations engaged in this kind of advocacy to create a supportive environment will be important for the success of community based activities.

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van Oudenhoven, F.J.W., Mijatovic, D., and Eyzaguirrem, P.B., 2011. Social-ecological indicators of resilience in agrarian and natural landscapes. Management of Environmental Quality: An International Journal 22(2):154–173.

Vernooy, R., Shreshta, P., and Sthapit, B., 2015. Community Seed Banks: Origin, evolution and prospects. Earthscan, Routledge.

Vigouroux, Y., Barnaud, A., Scarcelli, N., and Thuillet, A.C., 2011a. Biodiversity, evolution and adaptation in cultivated crops. Comptes Rendus Biologies, doi:10.1016/j.crvi.2011.03.003.

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Appendix 1. A heuristic framework to identify limitations in availability and access to crop genetic diversity (from Jarvis et al., 2011)
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1. Local crop genetic diversity does not exist or is not in sufficient quantities within the production system.

1a. Local crop genetic diversity does not exist within the production system ecosystems

1b. Local crop genetic diversity exists but at insufficient quantities

1b.1 Insufficient materials available

1b.2 Lack of capacity to multiply materials

2. Local crop genetic diversity is not accessible to farmers

2a. Farmers lack resources to acquire the materials

2a.1 Lack of funds to access from within the community

2a.2 Lack of funds to cover costs of access from outside community

2b. Crop genetic diversity is not accessible due to social constraints

2b.1 Pressure from formal sector limits accessibility

2b.2 Lack of social ties to access diversity

2c. Seed flow systems lack capacity to change or provide large enough samples to ensure adaptation and evolution

2d. Policies and institutions constrain seed flow

3. Farmers do not value and use local crop genetic resources

3a. Farmers do not perceive local crop genetic materials as competitive

3a.1 Information on values and benefits exist but is not available or accessed

3a.2 Information on values and benefits does not exist

3b. The materials have poor agronomic, ecological or quality performance or lack cultural acceptability

3b.1 The material has low agronomic performance

3b.2 The material is not adapted to abiotic conditions

3b.3 The material is not adapted to biotic pressures

3b.4 The quality of the material is poor

3b.5 The material is not culturally acceptable

3c. Management of the materials can be improved

3c.1 Seed cleaning and storage is a constraint

3c.2 Materials are not managed as diverse sets of varieties

3d. Policies inhibit the use of farmer led materials and management methods

4. Farmers do not benefit from the use of local crop genetic diversity

4a. Insufficient market benefits from the materials

4a.1 Low market value

4a.2 Low market demand

4a.3 Lack of technology to process diverse materials

4a.4 Lack of trust among market chain actors

4b. Insufficient non-market benefits from the materials

4b.1 Social-cultural benefits not valued

4b.2 Substitution for inputs (fertilize, pesticide) not valued

4b.3 Ecosystem service benefits of the materials not valued

4b.4 Farmers’ rights not valued

4b.5 Lack of social responsibility

4c. Weak local institutions and farmer/community leadership

4c.1 Lack of collective action

4c.2 Lack of farmer/community leadership

4c.2 Lack of support to local institutions

From Jarvis et al., 2016. Note the limitations in any one community may be traced to a number of the causes identified above.

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Appendix 2. The Community Biodiversity Management approach (adapted from Sthapit et al., 2006)
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appendix-2-community-biodiversity

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Appendix 3. Report methodology
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The authors evaluated the range of existing efforts to protect, restore and advance seed agrobiodiversity and the sources of support for such efforts. They explored strategic opportunities to strengthen the growing range of community based efforts with a view to identifying options for future support.

The work undertaken included the following elements:

  • A review and assessment of available information on current efforts to protect, restore and advance seed agrobiodiversity, taking into account the nature and characteristics of seed systems and the wider framework which supports or limits seed agrobiodiversity maintenance and use (e.g., national and international policies which support or hinder such efforts)
  • Phone and face-to-face interviews with some key players listed below. These included experts from FAO, GEF, Bioversity International, selected country donor agencies, private foundations, and civil society organizations (see Appendix 4).

The specific steps included:

  1. Finalization of work plan, division of tasks between authors and agreement on precise use of terms such as “seed agrobiodiversity”
  2. Analysis of information (using both published and grey literature) to identify, inter alia:
    • current status of work to protect, restore and advance seed agrobiodiversity at global, national and community levels;
    • current funding sources and possible trends in funding support for seed agrobiodiversity work;
    • typology of key players at community, national, international levels
    • contribution of seed agrobiodiversity to agroecology;
    • available information on indicators of impact of work on seed agrobiodiversity; and
    • current constraints to efforts to protect, restore and advance seed agrobiodiversity and their sources (e.g., policy, technical, resource, capacity).
  3. Review of main findings and identification of gaps in information and possible ways of filling them
  4. Preparation of the report and additional information provided as Appendices
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Appendix 4. Interviewees who provided input to this report
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Civil society organizations

Alejandro Argumedo, ANDES, Peru
Sajil Sthapit, Director, LIBIRD, Nepal
Normita Ignacio, Director, SEARICE, Philippines
Guy Kastler, La Via Campesina
Henk Hobbelink, GRAIN, Spain
Susan Walsh, USC, Canada
Delmah Ndhlovu, ZIMSOFF, Zimbabwe
Robert Brac de la Perriere, BEDE; Semences paysannes, France
Gigi Manicad, Oxfam Novib

National program and project related experts with recent relevant experience

Athula Liyanage, Sri Lanka
Bert Visser, Netherlands

International agencies

Marieta Sakalian, UNEP-GEF
ITGRFA personnel, FAO
Mark Holderness, GFAR

National donor agencies

Christina Blank, SDC, Switzerland
Alberto Camacho, GIZ, Germany
Daniel van Gilst, NORAD, Norway
Teshoma Hunduma, Norwegian Development Fund, Norway
Philip Chiverton, SIDA, Sweden
Karin Höök, SSNC, Sweden
Van Vaerenbergh Reinout, MFA, Belgium
Jean Lebel, IDRC, Canada

Seed experts

Oliver Coomes, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
Jacob van Etten, Bioversity International
Michael Halewood, Bioversity International
Ronnie Vernooy, Bioversity International
Devra Jarvis, Bioversity International
Shawn McGuire, University of East Anglia, United Kingdom
Yves Vigouroux, CIRAD, Montpellier, France
Bhuwon Sthapit, Bioversity International

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