More than 1.5 billion farmers depend on farm-saved seeds and other planting materials for their food security. USC works with farmers to protect biodiversity and secure their access to quality and adaptable seeds and planting materials.
Crop genetic diversity has been critical to successful food production since the beginnings of agriculture. Time and again, it’s been proven that such diversity is best conserved in the fields of small-holder farmers; in close proximity to crops’ wild relatives.
Genes from crops conserved this way – in their centres of origin – have often been used to strengthen or rescue commercial crops. Canada’s barley crop, for example, was rejuvenated by the genes of its Ethiopian parent when threatened by a yellow dwarf virus in the mid 20th century.
And yet, despite the fact that more than 1.5 billion farmers depend on farm-saved seeds and other planting materials for their food security, this on-farm conservation of plant genetic diversity does not receive the financial, intellectual, and institutional support it deserves.
If we are to address the issues facing food production – building sustainable pest and disease resistance, increasing production while maintaining diversity, meeting the ever-increasing food and nutrition demands of our growing global population, staring climate change down – we must pay special attention to on-farm conservation strategies involving smallholder producers.
Through on-farm collaboration between farming communities, indigenous peoples, and scientists in diverse agro-ecosystems throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America, USC aims to secure and diversify farmer-based seed.
- Strengthening and building farmer-managed seed banks that serve both as back-up seed supplies for tough times and as germ-plasm repositories of a given area’s biodiversity.
- Strengthening and/or introducing on-farm, conservation-based Participatory Varietal Selection (PVS) and Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB) of farmers’ varieties.
- Supporting and training in the control of post-harvest losses.
- Promoting integrated pest management
- Encouraging farmer-to-farmer exchanges through seed fairs, markets, and exchanges.
- Fostering collaboration on agro-biodiversity practices and policies with government officials (extension services, Ministry officials; etc.).