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You are here: Home Magazines Global edition Securing seed supply

Securing seed supply

A secure supply of quality planting material is essential in small scale agriculture. In this issue of the LEISA Magazine we present articles from around the world, in which communities describe how they have used various methods to secure their own seed supply.

Examples include efforts to conserve traditional rice seed in Sri Lanka, farmer's seed clubs in Vietnam who rehabilitate and select preferred varieties, and how farmers have improved seed potato in Kenya, using very simple methods. You can also read about how farmer managed natural regeneration has transformed Niger, and how farmers in the Philippines ensure they have enough sweet potato vines to plant, despite difficult local conditions. As a follow-on from our issue on ecological processes, (Issue 22.4) the Field Note is from Iraq, describing some experiences with testing out the system of rice intensification (SRI).

LEISA Magazine • 23.2 • June 2007

Table of contents:

  • 1 - 1
  • 2 - 3
  • 4 - 5
    Seed is the future of agriculture. For farmers it is the most essential input: without good seed they have no chance of a good harvest. This is a simple truth but the implications are far reaching. For thousands of years, farmers have been relying on their own harvests, selecting grains, storing them, and then using them as seed for the following season. They have been doing the same with potatoes and other vegetatively reproduced crops. By choosing seeds or planting materials that meet the needs of their particular farming conditions, they have, over time, developed local varieties and breeds which are most suited to their specific context and preferences. Today, however, many farmers have become highly dependent on seeds supplied by external agents, often large seed companies.
  • 6 - 8
    As seeds are one of the most important inputs in agriculture, farmers require them to be of good quality and with the characteristics they need for their particular conditions and objectives. However, seeds are not “transparent”: it is impossible to know the traits and the performance of the plants that will grow by merely looking at the seeds. Only by using seed that a farmer knows and trusts is the risk of crop failure minimised. Most farmers produce their own seeds, but there are many times when they purposefully look for seeds from external sources. This article focuses on the importance of social relations in seed transactions and on the central role which trust plays in the acquisition of seeds.
  • 9 - 9
    As sweet potato is a major cash crop in Central Luzon, the Philippines, demand for planting material is always high. In the lowland plains of the Tarlac province, however, most fields become flooded during the rainy season, which, after the harvest of the sweet potato roots, kills all plants. This makes it impossible for farmers to use vines from these plants as planting material for the next season. Differences in the agro-climatic conditions in Central Luzon have resulted in different yet complementary growing seasons. Sweet potato is grown from May to July in the uplands of Bataan province, and from September to December in the vast lowlands of the Tarlac province. This means that the harvest time in Bataan happens at just about the time that farmers from Tarlac are in need of planting material. This has given rise to a flow of sweet potato planting materials across Central Luzon.
  • 10 - 11
    The low quality of seed potato is a major problem for small scale potato producers in Kenya. Interventions to tackle this problem have mainly focused on specialised seed multipliers, but the results do not reach the majority of potato producers, most of whom select seed potato for the next planting season from their own harvest. This article describes a different approach: that of improving the quality of the seed potato by improving the selection process. Following the Farmer Field School approach, the International Potato Center and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute are promoting the practice of positive selection which has shown good results, and increasing yields.
  • 12 - 13
    The lowlands of the Isangati division, in southern Tanzania, enjoy ideal climatic conditions for theproduction of coffee. Yields, however, are low: one of the main reasons is the high incidence of two diseases: Coffee Berry Disease (CBD) and Coffee Leaf Rust (CLR). Ten years ago, different organisations decided to look for and promote the use of resistant varieties. This article describes the process lived after seedlings of nine different varieties resistant to CBD and CLR were collected from the Tanzania Coffee Research Institute. These were evaluated by the farmers themselves, and when those seen as best were reproduced and distributed massively.
  • 14 - 16
    The northern region of Nicaragua has always been an important bean and maize producing area. But a widespread presence of the Golden Mosaic Virus made it impossible to grow beans in the last years. A Participatory Plant Breeding programme started in 1999, aiming to develop new bean varieties that would fit the ecological conditions and farmers' own specific demands. After a series of evaluation trials, different "champion" varieties were selected and then multiplied. This article describes the process, and the attempts that followed to distribute the seeds widely. In spite of the difficulties, the project has been successful, boosting farmers' confidence, establishing linkages and, in general terms, helping all actors "move in a positive direction".
  • 17 - 17
    Based in Lusaka, Zambia, and working with other national centres, the SADC Plant Genetic Resources Centre (SPGRC) co-ordinates the conservation activities for the whole region, and stores a collection of local plant genetic resources. To date, 37 000 accessions of different crops have been collected and registered, and over a third of these have been deposited in the base collection at SPGRC. However, germplasm collection is not the only way in which SPGRC aims to conserve and guarantee the safe preservation of crop and wild plant genetic resources. The centre is also documenting the efficient and sustainable use of the plant genetic resources of the region, and is providing a forum for the exchange of scientific, cultural, traditional and indigenous knowledge.
  • 18 - 19
    Between 2002 and 2005, CARE International in Sudan implemented a project to enhance the food security status of approximately 65 000 rural families in Sheikan and Enhoud, two localities in North Kordofan. Some of the main components of the project were to improve seed availability through distribution of high quality seeds of improved varieties released by research, capacity building and training of local communities, and the promotion of seed multiplication at community level.
  • 20 - 21
    A community seed bank functions very much like a commercial bank. The transfers are, however, not in money but in seeds. Any inhabitant of the villages that a seed bank serves can become a member of the seed bank by paying a nominal annual fee. Seeds of food crops that are stored in the bank are provided free of charge to members of a seed bank. The member then sows the seed and after harvesting the crop, returns double the amount of seeds to the seed bank. This article describes the experiences of the GREEN Foundation in southern India. Successful results have shown that seed banks are not just a store where seeds of traditional varieties of food crops are kept for distribution to farmers. More than this, they are an important self-help strategy for maintaining genetic diversity in crop and plant species on farms.
  • 22 - 23
    The Movement for the Protection of Indigenous Seeds, MPIS, in Sri Lanka, started in 1986. Its aim is to breed and propagate local rice varieties and provide seeds and ecological awareness to farmers. It strives to do this by training farmers in ecological farming, building awareness among farmers to shift to ecological farming, assisting ecological paddy farmers to market their produce at fair prices, and developing a more direct rice chain from farmer to consumer and ensure a price fair to both. Among its different actions, possibly the most important is the collection and recording of varieties and associated knowledge (such as their medicinal and other useful properties, growing techniques and provenance), gathered from farmers throughout the country who meet every season to share seeds.
  • 24 - 26
    The Mekong Delta region is the biggest commercial rice production area in Vietnam. To cope with the growing demands for commercial seeds in the region, farmers organised themselves into Farmer Seed Clubs. To date, there are 57 seed clubs, mostly engaged in varietal selection and breeding, seed production and marketing. More than 1000 varieties have been selected and farmers were able to mass-produce seven new rice varieties from breeding or segregating lines. This article describes how, as a result of these efforts, by 2004, over 80 percent of the total seed requirements for rice cultivation in communities reached by the Community Biodiversity Conservation and Development Network Mekong Delta, are supplied by farmers.
  • 25 - 26
    Many farmers in the Mekong Delta region complained that the seeds which they liked showed strong varietal degeneration: their stand and performance were no longer uniform, resulting in poor rice harvests and poor grain quality. One response would be to introduce a new rice variety, but this was not what farmers wanted. So farmers of two extension clubs decided to rehabilitate their preferred varieties, not for commercial production but for their own use. Results were positive and the news spread very fast. This article shows that farmers not only know what criteria they are looking for - they are also able to select (and rehabilitate) their rice varieties if given the chance to do so.
  • 27 - 29
    Common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) are an important crop for food, cash and agro-ecosystem improvement in many countries in eastern, central and southern Africa. But because of different problems, such as root rots and drought, some of the farmers’ bean genotypes are no longer adapted to their growing conditions. With the support of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), various National Bean Research Programmes and their partners are running a region-wide programme, supporting the existing seed systems through the provision of bean varieties coming from these research centres. The approach aims to increase and speed up farmer access to novel types, while at the same time strengthening the existing institutional and social networks which supply seed to farmers on a continuous basis.
  • 30 - 31
    Farmers in the village of Odugampatti, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, have been implementing a multiplication and exchange system for groundnut seeds since 2001. This was developed in response to the difficulties they faced in accessing good quality groundnut seed. Nowadays, local farmers who enjoy irrigation facilities grow groundnuts for seeds and make these available to other villagers. This way, groundnut farmers in Odugampatti no longer depend on moneylenders for their seeds. Their seasonal expenditure for planting material has been reduced considerably also because of the higher seed quality for groundnuts that local seed growers attain.
  • 32 - 34
    Conventional methods of reforestation in Africa have often failed. The obstacles working against reforestation are enormous. But a new method of reforestation called Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) could change this situation. This article describes how the method was "discovered" in Niger, one of the world’s poorest nations, and how different efforts have made it possible to re-vegetate more than 3 million hectares using this method. Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration involves selecting and pruning stems regenerating from stumps of previously felled, but still living trees. Sustainability is a key feature of the programme which requires very little investment by either government or NGOs to keep it going.
  • 35 - 35
    Iraqi farmers usually cultivate rice according to cultural practices learnt from their parents. They use a large amount of seed (about 160 kg/ha) and dry cultivation methods.
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