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A Course in Nepal on Plant Genetic Resources and Resilient Seed Systems for Sustainable Food Security

Participants in Plant Genetic Resources and Resilient Seed Systems for Sustainable Food Security course, Nepal. Bioversity International/R.Vernooy

Francesca Grazioli, Research Support Officer for the Cacao Genetic Resources Team, Bioversity International, reports on a training on securing sustainable food security that grounded theory with practice and provided her with tools she can implement in her work on cacao. 

Deadlines, meetings, calls and hours spent in front of a computer often blur the meaning of concepts such as farmer resilience, sustainable use of agrobiodiversity, and adaptability to climate change that resonate often in our work at Bioversity International.

The three-week training course Plant Genetic Resources and Resilient Seed Systems for Sustainable Food Security offered in Pokhara, Nepal, grounded these abstract concepts. It did so through the faces of Nepalese farmers who confront the harsher droughts with climate-smart technologies, the loss of local diversity with the creation of community seed banks and the diminishing land productivity by engaging various stakeholders from researchers to policy makers.

The training organized by the Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation, Bioversity International, LI-BIRD (Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development, Nepal), and GrowInnova, ran from 22 October to 9 November 2018. International professionals from 17 countries (mainly from Africa and Asia, with me being the only representative from Europe) met to bring their own experience and knowledge to the one provided by the senior experts of the partner organizations.

The main areas covered by the course were: 1) Understanding and empowering the community; 2) Genebank and Resilient seed systems; 3) Learning from the field and integrating into own reality; and 4) Creating a supportive policy and legal environment to unleash the potential of communities.

Yet, the most innovative aspect of the training was the central role given to farmers, as key stakeholders and decision makers, while we were introduced to methodologies and approaches to promoting the safeguarding and sustainable use of agrobiodiversity in farming systems for sustainable food security. Maintaining a participatory approach has been the key trait of all the topics discussed and was indeed put to practice through working groups, computer simulations, debates and field visits.

The training blended together theory with practice in the remote and dry area of South Nepal, in the Kaski, Chitwan and Nawalparasi districts. In these districts, some farmer communities pioneering biodiversity management, building seed banks and climate-smart village management, met with us during the busy harvest season to discuss the challenges of diversity erosion and climate change and ways to face them in an inclusive way.

The experience provided me with more than one tool that I can now implement in my own work, in the cacao sector, especially in view of the challenges deriving from climate change. One example is the Triadic Comparisons of Technologies (tricot), where crop varieties or, as in the case of perennials like cacao, different management practices, could be tested on-farm by farmers themselves, and results can be scaled up quickly providing a functional trait analysis via the online software ClimMob.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that the location itself also played a role in making the course so engaging. Nepal is in fact one of the richest countries in terms of biodiversity. The training was held in one of the most suggestive places in the world. Pokhara offers astonishing views between the Lake Phewa and the Annapurna mountains, and you can get easily lost happily strolling around while treating yourself with local delicacies.

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