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Injecting diversity to bolster immunity to climate change and food insecurity

PACS awards ceremony, Jicamapa, Guatemala. Credit: Bioversity International/S.Padulosi

Bioversity International’s Senior Scientist Stefano Padulosi and Principal Economist Adam Drucker report on the success of the first edition of Payment for Agrobiodiversity Conservation Services to promote bean diversity in Central America.

Agricultural biodiversity is essential for our survival and well-being. Much like the way vaccines work to protect human health, a rich diversity of species and varieties bolster agricultural production systems to be more resilient and in many cases even ‘immune’ to climate change and food insecurity. Bioversity International and its partners in Guatemala recently implemented one such diversity ‘injection’.

Injecting diversity in Guatemala

On 8 March 2018, about 100 farmers gathered in the village of Jicamapa (Ipala), Guatemala, from 7 communities of the Chiquimula District for the Payment for Agrobiodiversity Conservation Services (PACS) awards ceremony. Bioversity International’s PACS is an incentive scheme to conserve agrobiodiversity.

Through this intervention – the first of its kind for beans and the first in Central America – farmers received collective awards for their commitment to safeguarding varieties of the Phaseolus vulgaris bean species, previously identified as at risk of extinction. These varieties were chosen based on a morphological and molecular analysis of Guatemalan bean diversity, and farmer knowledge.

Four varieties of beans were chosen – Rosita, Chapin Negro, Cordelin and Vaina Morada Pata de Sope – on the basis that they showed the greatest risk of genetic erosion. A cost-effective, competitive tender approach resulted in 216 farmers across the 7 communities being willing to dedicate a total land area of 7.2 ha to the conservation of these varieties. The total value of the group-level in-kind rewards the farmers requested to cover their opportunity costs for the conservation work was US$5,300. These rewards are granted in the form of agricultural inputs and other equipment that communities are going to use for production purposes or for improving logistics of community meetings.

One significant constraint encountered was the lack of access to quality seed, which limited the scope of the project.

Improving immunity

During the ceremony, the farmers overwhelmingly reiterated their appreciation for safeguarding these beans because of their good yield, disease and pest resistance, and taste and suitability for soups. They also indicated their intention to save up to one-third of the harvest as seed for replanting, even in the absence of further rewards.

As in other PACS schemes, the project retains a small percentage of the seed produced (in this case 5% of the harvest), while the farmers are free to do what they like with the remainder. The seed retained by the project will be stored at the University del Valle de Guatemala and – following a process of purification and multiplication – will be made available to other farmers in a coming agricultural season, with a view to ensuring that these varieties eventually reach a not-at-risk status.

Ensuring continuous health

PACS  ‘injections’ of vital biodiversity into local crop systems are part of a wider on-farm package promoted by Bioversity International. In our vision of integrated ex situ and on-farm conservation and sustainable use, PACS should eventually need only to be deployed to promote the kind of diversity that offers the highest public good values, while being associated with high farmer opportunity costs. Some activities that would complement this mechanism are:

  • support for participatory documentation and monitoring of diversity maintained on farm
  • mobilization of extension agents to promote local diversity and facilitate access to threatened variety of seed
  • introduction of a nation-wide recognition scheme for champion custodian farmers
  • support for the value chain development of local crops (e.g. by marketing a premium 'diversity-friendly' product, as being done for quinoa milk in Peru), and
  • inclusion of underutilized species in national food procurement systems (as done in India for millets) to help generate a sustainable demand.  

Such actions, however, require government, private-sector and international donor support.

The doctor may be willing to see us now, but the world’s agrobiodiversity-related health insurance that is needed to fund the prescribed immunization treatment continues to require strengthening.

Read this story in Spanish.

This initiative was organized together with the Genetic Resources Unit of the Center for Agricultural and Food Studies and University del Valle de Guatemala (UVG), under the framework of the IFAD-EU funded project 'Linking agrobiodiversity value chains, climate adaptation and nutrition: empowering the poor to manage risk'.

The work in Guatemala is part of the CGIAR Research Programs on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), and is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.