A blog maintained by Tevita Kete, PGR Officer
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji Islands
This weblog documents the activities of Pacific Agricultural Genetic Resources Network (PAPGREN), along with other information on plant genetic resources (PGR) in the Pacific.
The myriad varieties found within cultivated plants are fundamental to the present and future productivity of agriculture. PAPGREN, which is coordinated by the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), helps Pacific countries and territories to conserve their crop genetic diversity sustainably, with technical assistance from the Bioversity International (BI) and support from NZAID and ACIAR.
SPC also hosts the Centre of Pacific Crops and Trees (CEPaCT). The CEPaCT maintains regional in vitro collections of crops important to the Pacific and carries out research on tissue culture technology. The CEPaCT Adviser is Dr Mary Taylor (MaryT@spc.int), the CEPaCT Curator is Ms Valerie Tuia (ValerieT@spc.int).
PAPGREN coordination and support
Mr William Wigmore
Mr Adelino S. Lorens
Dr Lois Englberger
Mr Apisai Ucuboi
Dr Maurice Wong
Mr Tianeti Beenna Ioane
Mr Frederick Muller
Mr Herman Francisco
Ms Rosa Kambuou
Ms Laisene Samuelu
Mr Jimi Saelea
Mr Tony Jansen
Mr Finao Pole
Mr Frazer Bule Lehi
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Monday, October 19, 2009
Posted 10:11 PM by Tevita
Erosion of Crop Diversity Worrying
Harare — MALAWI and most other African countries need to come up with strategies and policies to promote agro-biodiversity conservation to minimise the impact of climate change and other natural disasters on the livelihoods of resource-poor farmers, a top Malawian plant breeder says.
In a wide-ranging interview in Lilongwe recently, Dr Moses Maliro, a plant breeder at the University of Malawi Bunda College of Agriculture, told this writer that the rapid loss of diverse cultivated crops and their wild relatives will affect the poor and threaten the future of agricultural development in Malawi and most other African countries.
"The impact of climate change and population is quite damaging to the livelihoods of the poor farmers.
"We need to strategise and come up with policies that promote agro-biodiversity conservation to enhance food security and help our poor farmers to cope with this looming climate change disaster," he said.
"Monoculture and the aggressive promotion of improved varieties have forced farmers to neglect their own landraces. Smallholder farmers' efforts to promote crop diversity must be supported by governments, international partners and local business community."
Dr Maliro said the preservation and use of crop diversity is important to the more marginal diverse agricultural environments where modern plant breeding has had much less success.
He said farmers in these areas tend to be poorly served by public research and extension system.
"Farmers are neglecting their own traditional crop varieties and their wild relatives in favour of monoculture (maize) and other market-driven crops such as cotton and others.
"But when there is a drought and other natural disasters, farmers survive on traditional tubers, wild species and other locally adapted crops," Dr Maliro said.
"Food aid normally comes late and is not enough, so the poor depend on these local traditional crops for survival. Why not promote them when they are so critical for our own food security?
"We should not impose improved varieties on farmers. Food security is not only about high yields, but is about sustainable production as well in case of unreliable weather conditions and climate change."
Malawi has lost a number of local crop varieties due to neglect, erosion of local indigenous knowledge systems, promotion of improved varieties, lack of incentives for locally adapted crops and other factors.
"People in Malawi used to grow a lot of sorghum and other small grains, but today you don't see the crops. You rarely see pearl millet and finger millet, you rarely see farmers growing the crops," Dr Maliro said.
He said agricultural research institutions, governments and NGOs need to promote the growing of sorghum, millets, bambara nuts, locally adapted varieties of cowpeas (nseula or khobwe), beans (mphodza -mung bean) and other wild crop relatives.
"The mphodza bean is there in the villages, but no research is being done nor any work to support farmers to grow it on a bigger scale.
"Only the elderly people have the knowledge of these crops that Malawi is fast losing.
"The young generation and our curricula in colleges and universities must be overhauled to promote indigenous food crops which are critical with this looming climate change crisis.
"If we don't anything to change our attitudes and support the farmers to grow these crops, the next generation will starve to death due to the damaging impact of climate change," said Dr Maliro.
"We need to conserve local crop varieties. These are very nutritious and we can use them, for example, cowpeas, to bake bread and fortify bread-making process.
"Roots and tubers are there in villages, but we are doing nothing to conserve them. Africa cannot afford to lose this diversity and the indigenous knowledge ingrained in these food crops."
Malawi and other African countries, he said, should adopt practical steps to promote small grains, roots and tubers to enhance food security, conserve crop diversity and enhance the capacity of smallholder farmers to cope with climate change-related risks.
Agricultural research institutions, he said, need support to scale up training in indigenous crops, crop seed back-up and plant breeding to help Malawi to be food secure in case of drought and other natural disasters.
Given that the majority of poor people in Africa live in villages or rely on agriculture, and that agriculture paves the way for economic growth in the poorer nations, agricultural and rural development remain a major driver for the achievement of Millennium Development Goals which seek to end hunger and extreme poverty.
Environmentally friendly agriculture such as the promotion of the growing of locally adapted indigenous food crops and rural development are key to this effort to attain MDGs by 2015.
The promotion of crop diversity tackles the malnourishment component in food security and helps the poor to escape poverty as they are able to learn, work and care for themselves and their family members.
If crop diversity issues are not addressed fully, hunger and over-reliance on food aid sets in motion an array of problems that perpetuates malnutrition, reduces the ability of adults to work and to give birth to healthy children, and erodes children's ability to learn and lead productive, healthy, and happy lives.
Lack of promotion of crop diversity can undermine human development and the potential of most African countries to attain the MDGs.
Africa, which is home to more than 50 000 known plant species, 1 000 mammal species and 1 500 bird species, is increasingly experiencing major losses of its large and diverse heritage of flora and fauna.
According to the 2007 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation report, there are roughly a quarter million plant varieties available for agriculture but less than 3 percent of these are in use today.
The UN agency is concerned that with disuse comes neglect and possibly neglect of the continent's plant food resources.
FAO further points to another worrying trend -- that modern agriculture is concentrated on a small number of varieties designed for intensive farming.
This, according to the report, has dramatically reduced the diversity of crop plant varieties available for agriculture, leading to accelerated genetic erosion on the continent.
Supporting smallholder farmers to conserve crop diversity wherever possible and greater political commitment is vital to enhance food security in Africa.
This can, at least, help bring the continent a step closer to attaining MDGs by 2015.
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