Notes: The seed rescue collection for Seed Recovery Programme is implemented by the Local Initiative for Research and Development (LI-BIRD), in three districts with technical assistance from the national genebank. It is funded through the Genetic Resource Policy Initiative (GRPI)-Phase 2 project of Bioversity International in partnership with National Gene Bank, Nepal is also implementing the Seed Rescue collection for seed recovery in 7 other earthquake affected districts funded by Global Crop Diversity Trust. This work is also carried out through the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems.
She brought for display several traditional crop varieties including a rare local variety of sweet buckwheat grown over generations in her village, that is adapted to the difficult terrain conditions where she farms. She described the buckwheat seeds as "important not only to our household food needs but also for local food recipes and the culture of the indigenous Jirel community." She added that “we have brought these seeds to safeguard for the future not only to meet food needs of our present generation but also to conserve our culture and traditions”. She was very happy to share the endangered seeds with other famers and people.
The most severely affected areas were the remote, mountainous parts of central and western Nepal, home to many remote communities completely dependent on smallholder agriculture for food and income. The earthquakes destroyed many of their farms and decimated winter crops of barley, legumes and maize that were ready to be harvested. Equally concerning for the longer-term food security for these people was the loss of many carefully stored seeds of traditional varieties – ones that have adapted over centuries to the harsh growing conditions in these remote areas and not easily replaceable.
A Seed Recovery Programme is trying to address this need through collecting missions by farmers in the area to rescue and safeguard rare native seeds, and efforts to rebuild local seed systems in 10 of the 14 most-affected districts. The Bioversity International-led Programme is being implemented by LI-BIRD in three affected areas, with the technical support of the national genebank. This effort to work to rescue, multiply and safeguard these seeds is unique among activities by the post-disaster relief agencies working in Nepal.
At the end of last month, the programme reached a milestone when seeds of rare and endangered crop species and varieties collected by farmers and field staff were handed over to the National Genebank at an event held at the District Agriculture Development Office (DADO), Charikot, in Dolakha.
During the event, Ms Renuka Ghimire, a farmer and her team from Betali village, Ramechhap district displayed some rare local varieties of beans and soybean. Showing the local seeds to participants she explained that: “ We need to preserve them as these local varieties are pest-resistant, adapt well to drought conditions and meet the consumption preferences of farming families in our villages”.
Mr. Prem Khatri, Programme Chair and Acting Chief of DADO, Dolakha, highlighted the importance of safeguarding native seeds in both the national genebank and community seedbanks as both a back-up measure for emergencies and also for the benefit of future generations: “Farm households are defacto genebanks for their native and rare seeds. I really appreciate the efforts of local farmers to conserve and maintain diverse local seeds of traditional crops even in the difficult situations such as during the aftermath of this recent disaster.”
A farmer from Jugu Villag, Ms Makhana Khadka, shared her experience of how earthquake turned her home into rubble within a couple of minutes. However, through rescue collection efforts, she could recover some of her lost seeds that otherwise she would have no hope of getting back.
Last summer, we reported on efforts by Bioversity International and partners to ensure that farmers in Nepal not only got the seeds they needed quickly, but that they were the right seeds – ones that can thrive in the challenging agro-ecological conditions and also meet local preferences, for example, as ingredients in traditional meals. But this is no easy task. Agricultural research programmes have not focused on these challenging and remote geographical areas, so there is little knowledge about the traditional crop varieties that grow there, and no back-up collections for these times of need.
Almost a year after two earthquakes devastated parts of Nepal, find out how a Seed Recovery Programme in 10 of the 14 most-affected districts is working with farmers to rescue and safeguard rare native seeds that are essential for food security. Bhuwon Sthapit and Devendra Gauchan report.
Today crowdsourcing is helping identify appropriate seeds. Bioversity International, Global Crop Diversity Trust , Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) , and Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research, and Development (LI-BIRD) are among the organizations working to collect local seeds and rebuild suitable seed stocks with the help of farmer-based testing.
Farming communities in central Nepal’s mountainous region were some of the hardest hit areas in the country. Seeds, tools, food stocks, and buildings were destroyed. In the six most-affected districts, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that about 60 percent of food and seed stocks were destroyed in farming households.
Farmers serve as citizen-scientists. By ranking seeds on their performance and yield, they help identify what works best in their specific environment. Crowdsourced methods like this allow scientists to get more research done in less time. And, seed businesses and community seeds banks can benefit from this recorded knowledge too.
So why not just plant different seeds and start over? Doing so can lead to major yield reductions and more work for farmers, as well as threaten food security. “When seeds don’t yield as expected it can lead to hunger and malnutrition in the coming season,” explains Mina Nath Paudel , the chief of National Agriculture Genetic Resources in Nepal.
After cleaning up their lands, farmers couldn’t just start planting for the summer growing season, though. Most seeds were unusable, since they’d been exposed to the elements. Well-meaning aid organizations rushed in seeds to replenish stocks, but many of them may not be culturally appropriate or ecologically adapted for the hilly terrain.
When there’s rushing after a disaster, people might not pay close attention to seeds.
The seeds in these areas weren’t well preserved outside farmers’ homes. Nepal’s rugged and varying land of mountains and hills pierced by valleys has created some pretty unique seeds for rice, maize, and pulses that are farmed in complex ways. When homes and barns were destroyed, so were many locally-adapted, genetically-rich seeds.
When two major earthquakes hit Nepal this past spring, it devastated the country’s agricultural sector. Cultivated terraces were washed away by landslides and covered in rubble. But farmers lost more than just their crops, cattle, and homes (see Nepal Earthquake Strikes One of Earth’s Most Quake-Prone Areas ). Gone, too, were the seeds they had uniquely adapted to their land over the course of decades.
“Very few seed varieties from here are developed through public and private sector plant breeding,” explains Bhuwon Sthapit , a senior scientist at Bioversity International . “These seeds adapt to the local environment and culture through an evolutionary process of natural and human selection that takes decades,” he says. “Call it evolutionary breeding in situ .”