Bibudh Dhewaju/LI-BIRD

Safeguarding Seeds in the Aftermath of the Earthquake

Posted on: 2/18/2016

By: Subash Gautam, Bibudh Dhewaju and Bharat Bhandari, LI-BIRD

Seeds are the source of life and the means of survival. The diverse local varieties of crops play important role in the food security. The local varieties of crops are adapted to their local climatic conditions and use traditions. Some are drought tolerant while others are resistant to disease and pest. They do not require higher input for cultivation and remain the most crucial input that farmers can use to improve production in remote villages. Thus, the identification, collection, safe storage, characterization and multiplication of these varieties are vital for our livelihood.

The Nepal Earthquake on April 2015, followed by many aftershocks caused 8,881 deaths, destroyed approximately 602,000 houses, and damaged additional 288,255 houses. The aftermath has caused huge loss and destruction of local varieties of crops, which resulted in food insecurity in the earthquake affected areas and increased dependence on imports for our livelihood. Thus, there was a strong realisation to rescue and preserve these local varieties of crops.

LI-BIRD implemented the Seed Rescue Project (SRP), a small grant short-term project, with technical support from the National Agriculture Genetic Resources Center (Genebank), and financial support from Bioversity International from July to December 2015.

The Seed Rescue Project, initiated to complement the seed relief work being carried out by LI-BIRD through the Rebuilding Family Farming (RFF) Programme aims to safeguard the locally adapted varieties through seed and passport data collection, and strengthen local seed system by improving access to these locally adapted varieties. In an attempt to cover wide agro-ecological topography, the project has been implemented in two Village Development Committees (VDCs) each of three districts: Jugu and Namdu of Dolakha, Marming and Petku of Sindhupalchwok, and Betali and Tilpung of Ramechhap.

LI-BIRD organised an event ‘Seed Handover to National Genebank’ at District Agriculture Development Office (DADO) in Charikot, Dolakha on 15 February 2016 in the presence of key stakeholders and government line agencies from each SRP site. Through the farmers, 444 accessions of 46 local crops with their passport information have been handed over to Dr. Minnath Paudel, chief of the Genebank for long term ex-situ conservation in the Genebank.

Dr. Devendra Gauchan observing the seed samples collected as they were displayed by farmers.
Photo: Bibudh Dhewaju/LI-BIRD

From Jugu and Namdu VDCs of Dolakha, 105 and 62 local crop accessions, respectively, were collected out of which 17 accessions of cereal crops are endangered. 64 and 62 accessions of seeds were collected from Marming and Petku VDCs of Sindhupalchowk out of which 10 legume crop accessions are endangered. Similarly, from Betali and Tilpung VDCs of Ramechhap, 84 and 67 local crop seed accessions were collected.

Highly endangered local varieties of rice collected from Jugu are Angha, Basmati, Pakhey, Sano marsi, Tauli; wheat are Bhagerey, Rato potey; maize are Kokale, Murali, Rato, etc. In Namdu, collected accessions of local rice varieties, Anpjhuttey and Motey dhan, and a bean variety, Choti are endangered. From Petku, collected local crop varieties such as Kalo jai, Mudey jai, Kalo bhatmas, Kailo bhatmas, Bhote farsi and Hariyo kankro are endangered. Local soybean (Kalo bhattamas) in every site is in endangered condition. This analysis and observation have been made from the passport data collected from farmers.

During the event, Dr. Paudel said, “We are not adequately acknowledging the efforts of the farmers who could be, in fact, compared to the gods for feeding us.” He said that the on farm cultivation is itself the first Genebank. He emphasised the need to value and conserve the local crop diversity and suggested farmers to select seeds from the farm for maintaining purity and improving yield.

Similarly, Dr. Devendra Gauchan, an Agricultural Economist at Bioversity International and the National Project Manager of the Local Crop Project, highlighted the importance of local crops for food and nutritional security in high altitude areas where there are very few improved varieties suitable for cultivation.

The farmers participating in the event are excited and hopeful for the future. Makhana Khadka, one of the women farmers from Jugu VDC of Dolakha, shared, “We are very happy to be involved in this event. The collection of seeds is like depositing and saving money in a bank. This will be useful for us, and also for our future generations”. The farmers have been well oriented with the prospect of saving local varieties of crops, especially after the loss of their crops in the earthquake. Renuka Ghimire, a women farmer from Betali VDC of Ramechhap, sang a poignant song with the message: “Though we, farmers, are disheartened by the earthquake, lets all move together ahead.” Through the song, she welcomed the efforts undertaken by implementers of the project.

Participants of the event. Photo: Bibudh Dhewaju/LI-BIRD

The local varieties of crop are provided to the National Genebank for safeguarding them for future needs and benefits of the communities. A similar event was organized in Nawalparasi during December 2014 where 15 Community Seed Banks (CSBs) and 3 farmers’ organizations transferred seeds of over 900 varieties to the Genebank. Preserving in the Genebank is not only the way to conserve the local crops. It is necessary to establish community seed banks and create a mechanism to link the Genebank and the communities. LI-BIRD is planning to establish a CSB in Jugu through Local Crop Project, which is jointly implemented with Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC)/Genebank under the financial support of Bioversity International/GEF/UNEP. The CSBs empower the communities, particularly women as they have greater role in managing the seeds. The collected local varieties of crops will be multiplied for easy access to the local communities.

The event was organized by LI-BIRD through Bioversity International funded project ‘Strengthening National Capacities to Implement the International Treaty of PGRFA: Genetic Resources Policy Initiative (GRPI), Phase II’ referred to as Seed Rescue Project.