Agriculture and food security is more vulnerable than ever. Climate change is predicted to reduce agricultural production by 2% every decade until 2050, with yields of major crops declining by an average of 8% in Africa and South Asia (IPCC 2014). As extreme weather events become more frequent and unpredictable, smallholder farming communities will continue to be hardest hit.
Diversification is one way to give farmers more options in times of need. With little access to a diversity of crops and varieties, farmers are more likely to cope with the effects of climate change. But farmers do not always have the information or planting material to choose what diversity best suits their conditions.
How can we tap into the vast genetic diversity that exists in different countries to address farmer needs in a timely manner?
Bioversity International's 'Seeds for Needs' initiative works with >20,000 smallholder farmers in 11 countries to research how agricultural biodiversity can minimize the risks associated with climate change. The concept is simple – if farmers have better information and access to a wide range of varieties, they are more able to choose what best suits their conditions and cope with unpredictable weather.
We focus on deploying existing diversity to farmers from wherever it is found, whether in genebanks, plant breeding programmes or in their own fields.
The farmers we work with are directly involved in evaluating and selecting varieties, providing valuable feedback on their preferred traits to scientists. By involving them as 'citizen scientists', we increase their first-hand knowledge of useful varieties and traits.
We then compare these experiences with our scientific data to identify important trends and map traits that then inform farmer decisions and breeding. In each country, we work closely with national researchers and extension systems, making sure we build capacity and push for policies that support the use of biodiversity by farmers. These partnerships have helped us involve farmers at a scale that would otherwise not be possible.
Seeds for Needs started in Ethiopia in 2009, and was one of the winning projects of the World Bank's Development Marketplace award in the same year.
We now have project sites in 11 countries:
Bioversity scientists are using improved and affordable iButton sensors to measure local weather in farmers' fields under the Seeds for Needs Initiative. Learn how to use them in Bioversity's technical manual: Collecting Weather Data in the Field with High Spatial and Temporal Resolution Using iButtons.
Read about Papua New Guinea and the Seeds for Needs initiative through the voices of some of the farmers we work with in this little booklet.
This work is carried out in collaboration with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.