Approaches and Advantages of Increased Crop Genetic Diversity in the Fields


April 2023


Crop genetic diversity is the most important factor for a long-term sustainable production system. Breeding and production strategies for developing and growing uniform and homogenous varieties have created many problems. Such populations are static and very sensitive to unpredictable stresses. In Nepal, more than 80% of the seed system is informal, which has contributed greatly to creating and maintaining genetic diversity within the field. This paper aims to assess and present the approaches and advantages of increased crop genetic diversity in the fields, based on the experiences of implementing on-farm conservation activities carried out in Nepal for last two decades. Some of the evidence has been derived from an ongoing evolutionary plant breeding (EPB) project being implemented in Nepal. The information is supplemented with field assessments, focus group discussion, and a literature review. The major approaches to increase crop genetic diversity are evolutionary plant breeding, cultivar mixture, landrace enhancement, informal seed systems, the bulk method, diversifying the seed sources, participatory plant breeding, open pollination, etc. EPB and cultivar mixture are very simple and effective approaches to increase crop genetic diversity at field level. The involvement of farmers in these approaches helps to accelerate the population improvement, maintaining the higher degree of genetic diversity. The major advantages of increased crop genetic diversity are seed maintenance by farmers themselves, minimal risk of crop failure, resilience to unpredictable stresses, increased amount of diversified nutrition, production increment, ease of producing organically, etc. However, there are some issues and problems associated with mixtures and intra-varietal diversity; for example, not being able to harvest by machine, maturing at a different date, difficulty in maintaining seeds and registration, etc. Crop genetic diversity should be considered as a sustainable approach for a climate-resilient and self-dependent production system. The higher the genetic diversity in farming land, the more chance of receiving multiple benefits in the agriculture system.
Keywords: evolutionary population; informal seed system; landrace; resilience; varietal mixture