Crop genetic diversity in farmers’ fields reduces pest and disease damage and improves crop quantity and quality. Injecting the use of intra-specific or crop varietal diversity into other agronomic practices has (i) reduced current crop loss, (ii) reduced the probability of future crop loss if there is a change in the pathogen or pest type, or climate, and (iii) provided a viable cost saving alternative to pesticide use. Women are actively involved in leadership and research roles. Ugandan farmers have increased quality common bean production using diverse sets of bean varieties to fight against anthracnose and bean fly. Smallholder farmers in Ecuador who planted diverse bean varieties harvested in spite of a heat wave, while others who invested in one commercial variety lost all. Chinese farmers in the SW mountains identified their most resistant traditional maize and rice varieties, Moroccan farmers note differences in crop loss related to more diversity in barley and faba bean
BIOVERSITY INTERNATIONAL - ItalyLead applicant
Improving lives through biodiversity research.
National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) - UgandaInitiative partner
The National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) is the apex body for guidance and coordination of all agricultural research activities in the national agricultural research system in Uganda. NARO is a Public Institution established by an act of Parliament, which was enacted on 21st November 2005. NARO is a body corporate with perpetual succession and a common seal. NARO comprises of the council as its governing body, committees of the council as its specialised organs, a secretariat for its day-to-day operations with the semi-autonomous public agricultural research institutes under its policy guidance
Universidad Tecnica Estatal de Quevedo - EcuadorInitiative partner
Instituto Nacional Autónomo de Investigaciones Agropecurarias - EcuadorInitiative partner
Yunnan Academy of Sciences - ChinaInitiative partner
Yunnan Agricultural University - ChinaInitiative partner
Institute of agronomic and veterinary Hassan II - MoroccoInitiative partner
L'Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II est un Etablissement public, créé en 1966 par Décret Royal et doté de la personnalité morale et de l'autonomie financière. Il est passé, en 1966, de 12 étudiants suivant des cours assurés par des enseignants étrangers à son statut actuel de 2000 étudiants et 20 programmes de spécialisation dans deux campus, l'un à Rabat et l'autre à Agadir. Les 335 enseignants-chercheurs actuels sont à 98% des Marocains impliqués dans 70 disciplines scientifiques différentes. Les étudiants étrangers (de 24 pays arabes, africains,..) représentent en moyenne 10% de l'effectif estudiantin et sont en majorité boursiers du Gouvernement Marocain. L'Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II s'est fixé comme objectifs, entre autres, de donner à des Etudiants Marocains et Etrangers une formation de haut niveau. Sous l'égide du corps enseignant, dont plus de 200 docteurs d'Etat et grâce à une riche pluridisciplinarité, la formation est assurée dans le cadre des filières de formation
Sichuan Academy of Agricultural Sciences - ChinaInitiative partner
L'Accademia delle scienze agricole del Sichuan (SAAS) è un organo provinciale del CAAS (Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences). È un'organizzazione di ricerca agricola il cui compito strategico è quello di servire lo sviluppo agricolo e rurale a livello nazionale e fornire formazione agli agricoltori a livello scientifico e tecnologico. Le sue principali mansioni si concentrano sulla ricerca strategica e applicata per risolvere problemi scientifici che sono di importanza nazionale e provinciale.
Injecting the increased use of crop varietal diversity into farmers’ pest and disease management strategies
Until recently integrated pest management methods have focused on using agronomic techniques to modify the environment around predominantly modern cultures to reduce the need for pesticides, making limited use of the opportunities offered by intra-specific diversity of local crop varieties themselves. Crop varietal diversity, and the indigenous knowledge acquired to manage this diversity, is one of the few assets available to poor farmers to meet their livelihood needs. Researchers have discussed and walked through fields with farmers gathering information about the crops they grow, number of varieties, pests and diseases. We compared the damage for households that only grow one variety to those that grow 2, 3 or 4 varieties of the same crop. The results have clearly shown a general decrease in crop damage in the households that grow more than 1 variety. Furthermore we noted that diversity is responsible for the effect of ‘variance’ in damage, i.e. the reduction in damage extremes.
The negative consequences of planting large areas to single, uniform crop cultivars were seen with the Irish potato famine, where genetic uniformity led to devastating crop loss. New varieties produced by breeding programmes to replace varieties that have lost resistance have high maintenance costs and often protect only a few cropping seasons. A diverse genetic base of crop resistance allows a low-cost, stable management of pest and disease pressure, resulting in reduced crop loss and reduced probability of future loss to new pathogens and biotypes. One of the few assets available to small-scale farmers is their local crop biodiversity and local knowledge to manage this diversity. However, little national research funding is channeled to developing technologies that support local crop biodiversity use or diversity-rich solutions. The lack of access to sufficient quantities of clean diverse seeds limits the potential for the optimal use of crop biodiversity to prevent crop loss.
Achievements include: Increased number of landraces with different resistance available to farmers, with significant yield increase for bean (Ecuador); Four community seed banks established (China, Uganda); Mixture trials vs monocultures set up in all countries, resulting in some yield increases in mixture planting, as well as a decrease in disease index, reducing crop loss; Sources of resistance to maize diseases identified among local varieties with high potential for use in national breeding program (Ecuador); Pesticide use reduced in project sites compared to 2008 baseline study (Uganda); Farmer-friendly publications on use of diversity and management of the most common pests and diseases published in local languages, e.g. a morphological characterization of most common banana varieties - Ecuador; Banana Recipe book; Video on the importance of crop varietal diversity (Morocco); and Community Biodiversity Fairs, field visits and training undertaken in all programme countries.
Men and women farmers, extension workers, local educational institutions, and community-based organizations have benefitted from representative partnerships built with local and national researchers, and from the increased offer of training opportunities (e.g. analysis of local crops, knowledge about local genetic diversity, new econometric methods and tools to assess the value of crop genetic diversity). Universities and technical institutes, extension workers and local development organizations are better equipped to support farmers in their use of local crop diversity and to provide alternatives to use of pesticides. Farmers’ production systems are more resilient to changes in pest and disease infestations, and vulnerability to production and income losses are reduced. Farmers are also benefitted directly from the deployment of genetic diversity and from a more complete understanding of how their management practices can be effectively deployed.
The programme involved farmers, farmer organizations, NGOs, agricultural extension workers, natural and social science researchers from universities and agricultural research institutes, and Ministries of Agriculture and the Environment, in four countries, together with and multiple international partners. Technical and site teams were established, with farmers from local communities as key members of these teams, and are led by national institutes. The Ministries and Departments of Agriculture and the Environment provide policy support. Mainstreaming with farmers is supported by the extension and development institutes, and by local NGOs. This allowed the programme to be immediately accepted by the communities and ensured that farmers did not perceive the initiative as external. This structure was built to ensure a direct link between farmers and scientists and to put the latter in a position to respond in a timely fashion to farmers’ requests.
The involvement of different research institutes was important for ensuring that the full range of expertise required was available. This was certainly critical to obtaining important results. However, on occasion, the collaboration between institutions was not always easy due to the lack of a tradition of working together. Efforts and resources were therefore focused on enhancing collaborative efforts and to assisting the partners to understand the importance of working together with new partners.
Pesticide use is increasing all over the world, leading to serious harmful impact on human and environmental health. At the same time pesticide manufacturers do not pay the full cost of the adverse effects that pesticides have on the environment of human health. Diversity, in the form of diverse sets of crop varieties, is used in this project as a deliberate strategy for managing abiotic and biotic pressures in labour-intensive production systems with low chemical inputs. The use of crop diversity to manage pest and disease pressures reduces the need for the application of pesticides that destroy useful and beneficial insects and fungi in the agroecosystem and that also contaminate groundwater. The programme also provides environmental health workers with information on the use of host resistance in relation to pest and disease management as an alternative to harmful and unsafe pesticide use.
The programme has now been running for ten years, even though funding suffered some interruptions. Despite these interruptions some of the project key activities continued thanks to farmers’ personal initiatives. The collections of diverse target crops were maintained both in the field and within the community seed banks and when new funds were available, implementation continued with no major discontinuity. Diversity fairs are now regularly organized not only in all programme sites but also in neighboring communities in the four countries. In some countries extension services are now integrating management of intraspecific diversity into their practices. Furthermore, the approach developed is being now implemented in other countries (Nepal, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan) within the framework of actions funded by international agencies.
During the programme, publications of different kinds (scientific publications and family-friendly documents) were released. During diversity and seed fairs, side events were organized to publicize objectives and activities to a wider audience, including drawing competitions for children. In Uganda several radio programs were conducted in local languages at local radio stations. Field trials have been set up together with farmers and regular visits were paid to the farmers’ fields by scientists and other farmers, providing a chance to directly see the impact of diversity on crop performance. Cross-site visits were organized to allow farmers to see different environments and productions systems.