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A new tool for resilient seed systems

The Resource Box for Resilient Seed Systems contains a methodology to build resilient seed systems that meet the needs of tomorrow and help farmers adapt to climate change effects. Photo: IITA
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Ene 27, 2016


Ronnie Vernooy (Bioversity International)

The Resilient Seed Systems Resource Box is a tool to enhance the access and use of crop diversity to adapt to climate change.

Have you ever wondered how farmers in developing countries get their seed? If, in your imagination, you see them buying certified seeds from what is known as the ‘formal seed system’, you are very likely to be wrong.

Research findings suggest that a very large percentage (ranging from 60% to 90%) of the seeds on which smallholder farmers in developing countries depend is saved on farm or obtained through informal distribution channels, such as exchanges between farmers, community sharing systems and local markets. In these informal seed systems, women farmers play a key role but they are often overlooked by researchers and development personnel, policies and programmes. This high level of seed autonomy among farmers masks the fact that, almost everywhere, local seed systems are under stress.

Agricultural intensification and commoditization, privatization of natural resources, and the strong concentration and expansion of corporate power in the life science industries (including the seed industry) are contributing to a decline in collective local management of plant genetic resources for both conservation and sustainable use.

Climate change has begun to put additional pressure on farmers’ seed and food production systems and on the multiple functions that they fulfill. Findings from the field point to a decline in diversity of local varieties in many countries. Future impacts of climate change are expected to become more pronounced in many parts of the world, forcing farmers to change their practices and causing them to find crops and varieties better adapted to new weather dynamics.

Climate and crop modeling tools are increasingly used to predict the adaptive capacity of a given crop to expected changes in climate. The results of these modeling exercises can be used to design strategies to access and use crops and crop varieties that are expected to be better adapted to future climate changes in specific locations. Providing farmers with better access to crop and varietal diversity can strengthen their capacity to adapt to climate change. Under supportive policy and socioeconomic conditions, such strengthened capacity could contribute to greater food availability throughout the year, the production of more nutritious and healthy crops, and income generation.

A multidisciplinary team of Bioversity International researchers has been offering technical support to national research partners to design and implement a comprehensive capacity-building strategy to access and use plant genetic resources more effectively in the context of climate change adaptation. Countries include Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Guatemala, India, Madagascar, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda.

In order to support these efforts, they have developed a resource box for resilient seed systems, with CCAFS technical and financial support.  

The resource box, available online at, includes eight modules that represent the steps of a dynamic research cycle:

  1. Situational analysis and planning
  2. Data preparation and selection of software
  3. Climate change analysis and identification of germplasm
  4. Germplasm acquisition
  5. Field experimentation
  6. Germplasm conservation
  7. Participatory evaluation
  8. Knowledge sharing and communication

The resource box is intended for plant breeders, researchers, genebank managers and policymakers with an interest in plant genetic resources; for university lecturers and advanced students with an interest in agricultural development, adaptation to climate change and seed systems; and for others involved in strengthening farmers’ seed systems and their capacity to adapt to climate change. The resource box can be used in multiple ways - as a one-stop shop for finding selected resources to be consulted on an ad-hoc basis, as a learning tool for building capacity in facilitating, conducting and/or participating in such a research process, or as educational material for higher education classes or on-the-job training workshops.

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