Farmers in many regions of Nepal and other parts of the Hindu Kush Himalaya have, over time, had to rely on monocultures of hybrid crop varieties. This increases their dependence on private seed companies and raises their input costs. Hybrid varieties are susceptible to disease and often cannot withstand the vagaries of a changing climate. In response, Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD) has established a community seed bank (CSB) at Pingdanda, a village in Sindhupalchok district, Nepal. The CSB has so far conserved 117 varieties of 31 crop species. It has prioritize access to seeds by women, and marginal and smallholder farmers. The CSB has reduced the input costs borne by farmers in the area, while maintaining crop yields.
Most people in the mountain regions of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) rely on agriculture and related occupations for their livelihood. Over the years, agricultural practices in Nepal and the HKH region in general, have led to a reliance on hybrid crop varieties. Though good for yields, such varieties impose challenges such as dependence on seed companies, higher costs, and being more vulnerable in the face of climate change.
In order to increase crop production, farmers are increasingly practicing monoculture using hybrid seeds. Increasing use of hybrid seeds, local crop varieties are being replaced from the farming system narrowing use of crop varietal diversity in the farming system. It has increased the dependence of farmers on private seed companies and agro-vets as well as narrowing crop genetic base in the farming system. Local crop diversity which are well adapted to local climatic conditions are being replaced by hybrid seeds. Hybrid crop varieties are susceptible to disease and pests and require a high quantity of agrochemical inputs. Moreover, these hybrid breeds often cannot withstand the hostile agricultural environment – erratic rainfall, high temperatures, droughts, and powerful winds – brought forth by climate change.
In order to address the varied problems narrated above, Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD) has established a community seed bank (CSB) at Pingdanda, a village in Sunkoshi Rural Municipality, Sindhupalchowk District, Nepal. CSB is established to increase utilization of local crop genetic resources, reduce dependency on imported hybrid seeds, strengthening local seed system ultimately contributing to build climate resilience farming system. As CSB helps to increase quality seed access in affordable price at local level, it reduces production cost of farmers. In addition, CSB promotes on-farm participatory research enabling local farmers to evaluate and choose locally preferred crop diversity via diversity block.
Site for the establishment of the CSB was selected considering distance from the market, access to roads, the presence of vulnerable and marginal communities, well-functioning farmers’ institutions, and opportunities to sell seeds at a commercial scale. After the site was identified, local farmers were consulted to build local ownership and their participation in establishing a CSB. The available crop diversity and traditional knowledge associated with those varieties was documented via various participatory methods. These included a crop inventory, four cell analysis (a technique to assess the diversity and distribution of local crop varieties), maintaining a community biodiversity register, and generating a passport data book, essential methods to identify unique, rare varieties, and genetic resources that need immediate attention. An action plan covering all aspects of the establishment of the CSB was created immediately after documentation.
Capacity building training and orientation that focused on local crop conservation, quality seed production, seed certification, and organizational governance were organized targeting CSB member farmers and the management team. A seed fund and a community biodiversity management fund were developed to achieve a self-financing mechanism for the sustainability of the CSB. Furthermore, the CSB in Pingdanda has developed links with the local authorities and governmental and non-governmental line agencies to leverage their resources and collective efforts.
The Pingdanda CSB has been conserving 117 varieties of 31 local crop species such as rice, maize, wheat, beans, millets and vegetables etc . It has maintained registers that have recorded knowledge and information regarding local varieties available within the community. Its helps to identify and promote use of crop diversity as well as contributes to protect bio piracy. The seed bank has also become a knowledge hub where people can learn about agricultural biodiversity and its uses.
The Pingdanda CSB produces 3–4 tons of quality certified improved seeds of rice and maize and stores them safely to distribute later. It has prioritized access to seeds by women, and marginal and smallholder farmers, who tend to have limited access to quality seeds..
Him Bahadur Acharya, chairperson of the Pingdanda agricultural cooperative in Sindhupalchowk, said, “We are protecting the local seeds that are climate-resilient and which give almost equal quantity of produce with lesser inputs and lower costs of production.” He then added, “Now people do not need to go to the agro-vet all the time for seeds.”
Anita Gautam and Indra Prasad Paudel
Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD)
Each of the RMS solutions are linked to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the UN in 2015. The SDGs that this intervention contributes to are as follows: