Bioversity International: research for development in agricultural and tree biodiversity

Ethiopian farmer communities – from citizen scientists to published authors

28 Aug 2017

Ethiopian farmers’ knowledge was crucial in selecting durum wheat varieties that can ensure food security and climate resilience in the region. Researchers in Italy and Ethiopia discuss the results in a scientific paper that would have been impossible without the farmer communities acting as co-authors.

Durum wheat is a very important crop in Ethiopia, where 80% of the population works in agriculture, and 80% of those are smallholder farmers.

Although there are good modern varieties of durum wheat, they aren’t widely grown by smallholders. One of the reasons is that most of them get seed from the informal sector, exchanging local and traditional varieties with neighbours and others. In addition, modern varieties don’t perform very well under the marginal conditions Ethiopian smallholders work with.

Participatory crop improvement methods allow to better integrate farmers’ preferences into breeding. With participatory approaches, farmers identify their preferred varieties. Their evaluations may then be joined to breeders’ opinions and used as an integrated selection and breeding tool. The exploration of farmer knowledge and preferences promoted by these methods allows breeders to select or produce varieties that are both more likely to perform better under smallholder conditions and that will appeal to farmers.

A study  by Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Bioversity International and partners* aimed, through participatory crop improvement methods, to understand better what durum wheat varieties farmers prefer. The researchers asked 60 smallholder farmers (30 women and 30 men) from two highland communities to evaluate 400 Ethiopian wheat accessions for traits of their interest.

Some varieties scored highly in both locations and with both genders. Almost all of those were landraces (local traditional varieties). Based on this information, coupled with measurements of ten agronomic traits, the researchers produced a list of the best varieties. Twenty-one of these varieties were then distributed to 900 households in 24 villages for further testing under farmers’ conditions, using a crowdsourcing or citizen-science approach.

For their tremendous contribution and knowledge shared during the study, the two Ethiopian farming communities are acknowledged as co-authors of the study.

To learn more about this study, read the full paper published in Nature's Scientific Reports.

*Amhara Regional Agricultural Research Institute and Mekelle University

Photo: Ethiopian farmers in a durum wheat field. Credit: Bioversity International/J. van de Gevel

This work is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), and is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.