From Genebanks to Farmers. A study of approaches to introduce genebank material to farmers’ seed systems

From Genebanks to Farmers. A study of approaches to introduce genebank material to farmers’ seed systems

Genebanks conserve key resources for increasing global food security and adapting to environmental change. The conventional way genetic resources are deployed to farmers goes through a linear pathway of breeding, delivery and adoption (BDA) of improved varieties. However, over the past 30 years a number of other pathways from genebanks to farmers’ fields have been tested and operationalized. This report reviews strategies, methodologies and projects that exist to facilitate direct access to genebank material for farmers. Based on a literature review, a survey as well as interviews and data collection from key actors in conservation and development oriented seed system work, we trace trends in the field and develop a typology of approaches.

Data from the CGIAR genebanks show that farmers, farmer organizations and NGOs comprise a substantial user group, e.g in 2015 these groups received more than 7% of the seed samples distributed in 2015, on par with the number distributed to the commercial sector. We categorize the approaches to make direct use of genebank collections on farm into six categories: (1) Reintroduction, (2) Community Seed Banks (CSB), (3) Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB), (4) Emergency Seed Interventions, (5) Variety Introduction and (6) Integrated Seed System Approaches. However, the approaches overlap and there are no clear boundaries between them. The historical trend in genebank-farmer work goes from an early emphasis on conservation (e.g. collaboration to link ex situ conservation with in situ and on farm conservation efforts) towards an increasing emphasis on use of diversity for enhanced agricultural outcomes. This trend is visible in the literature as a shift from a perspective on farmers as custodians of crop diversity towards a focus on farmers as users of crop diversity and the functions of farmers’ seed systems. Farmers’ and formal seed system literature comprises analyses of seed systems across scales and ranges from basic research to explicitly development oriented research. Figure 1 illustrates how the categories of approaches analyzed here relates to the formal and the farmers’ seed system.

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