Bioversity International’s Seeds for Needs Initiative is gaining momentum in India. In April 2014, in partnership with the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, a successful farmers’ field day was organized in the state of Bihar, followed by various training workshops for farmers on seed selection and production in both Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
1700 farmers were invited to the farmers’ field day, which was also attended by the former Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, Tejendra Khanna and Vice Chancellor of Rajendra Agricultural University, R.K. Mittal, who acknowledged both the importance of biodiversity, and the strides that the Seeds for Needs Initiative has made so far in empowering farmers and improving their livelihood security.
The field day included presentations by Bioversity International scientists on the background, progress and future plans of the Seeds for Needs Initiative, which works with farmers to sample and evaluate crop varieties, and strengthen existing seed systems by giving farmers access to more diversity. Using a crowdsourcing approach, the initiative now has a network of 5000 farmers in India (3500 in Bihar and 1500 in Uttar Pradesh), who conduct trials on their own farms and give scientists feedback on the performance of different traits.
In fact, the showstoppers of the field day were the farmers themselves, who shared their experiences with the initiative so far. “We used to have only a few choices in wheat and rice farming,” said one farmer. “Now we have come to know how many types are available for our use and some of them are really performing better than our regular ones, with bigger ears and shorter duration.”
Shorter duration varieties are in high demand by farmers, who are already dealing with seasonal and rainfall shifts brought on by climate change. Traditionally, much of the wheat in India is grown during the Rabi season, which begins at the end of the monsoon (September or October) and over the winter for a spring harvest around March or April. Sudden heat spikes during flowering time or a weak monsoon, however, can have devastating consequences for farmers. Growing different varieties with different flowering and harvesting times is one way to minimize risk.
In 15 villages in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh a smaller group of farmers was also trained on how to be better at saving and producing seeds, both for their own use to minimize costs and sustain their own needs, but also for sale, in order to have another source of income and share diversity with their networks. In India, the government allows farmers to sell labelled seeds for their own and neighbours’ use. Improving the quality and diversity of seeds shared can make a big difference in these communities, especially for those who live further from or cannot afford seeds from high-quality seed markets.
Farmers also visited nearby field trials hosting up to 20 wheat varieties and were trained on yield-improving management techniques, such as planting distance, identifying obnoxious weeds and recognizing off-types – individual plants that are underperforming compared to their counterparts, such as having stunted growth or poorly developed leaves; these should be removed.
The initiative is increasingly involving both men and women farmers in the crowdsourcing initiative and seed production training. Aside from the workshops mentioned, Bioversity International is also working with NGOs that help women's groups produce quality seeds for market.
View photos from the farmers’ field day and training workshops in this Flickr set.
Find out more about our Seeds for Needs Initiative.