Policy support for community seedbanks in Nepal to play a role in climate change adaptation

Bioversity International has been working for many years to strengthen policy support around community seedbanks in Nepal.

All around the world, farmers and their communities are struggling to maintain crop diversity, in particular of farmer varieties. Diversity is disappearing or is under pressure due to the commercialization of agriculture, expansion of the industrial food sector, monopolization of seed production and/or recurring natural disasters, most notably droughts, floods, and hurricanes. Farmers also face the impact of climate change.

Crop diversity plays a key role in farmers’ livelihoods: a source of food and nutrition, a buffer to environmental disturbances, a cultural or spiritual treasure. Community seedbanks are forms of collective action to withstand and counter crop diversity loss.

The first steps

The first community seedbank in Nepal was established in 1994 in the Dalchowki community through the Integrated Community Development Program (ICDP) implemented by USC Canada. The main function of this pioneer community seedbank was to collect, enhance and multiply seeds of local varieties. Since then, many more community seedbanks have been established in the country with the financial and technical support of non-government organizations (e.g. Action AidLI-BIRD, OXFAM), the national genebank of Nepal and international organizations. Among the supporting international organizations is Bioversity International in collaboration with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

Their functions have become more diverse and now include not only conservation but also participatory crop improvement, seed production and marketing, local rural development, empowerment of women, provision of rural credit and climate change adaptation.

In 2008/09, the government of Nepal endorsed the concept of a community seedbank in the budget speech of that year envisioning that seedbanks would improve access to quality seed for small and marginal farmers. Although this was a step in the right direction, it did not lead to much concrete support for community seedbanks. Current policies allow farmers to exercise some rights individually, but collective efforts, such as those represented by community seedbanks, remain a challenge. A community seedbank can still not register and operate as a special legal entity with particular objectives related to seeds. This means they lack legal protection, cannot open a bank account, receive and manage financial support on their own.

The lack of policy and legal support was one of the reasons why a few years ago the organizations supporting community seedbanks decided to join forces and facilitate the creation of a national network of community seedbanks. A first national community seedbanks workshop took place in 2012 to exchange knowledge and experiences, and develop a common agenda for research, development and policy advocacy.

The leader of the Agyauli community seedbank, Nepal, explains the objectives of the community seedbank. Photo: R. Vernooy (Bioversity International)

Part of the Agyauli community seedbank collection, Nepal. Photo: R. Vernooy (Bioversity International)

Second national community seedbanks workshop

In April 2018, Bioversity International co-organized the second national community seedbank workshop to exchange knowledge, experiences, and seeds, and discuss the key elements of a policy action agenda for the coming years. This action plan was requested by the government of Nepal to inform its current and future agricultural policy development including its climate change adaptation strategy and national agrobiodiversity conservation and sustainable use strategy.

At the workshop, Bioversity International also supported the formation of the National Association of Community Seed Banks (ACSBN) of Nepal as a follow up to the informally constituted national network and helped develop its first national plan to support community seedbanks in the country. The government invited the ACSBN to share its first national plan and to work with the government together to support community seedbanks.

Leaders of community seedbanks from across Nepal at the Second National Community Seedbanks Workshop. Photo: R. Vernooy (Bioversity International)

Workshop participants put forward the following high priority policy issues to be dealt with:

  • Allocation of funds to set up a Community Biodiversity Management Fund by each community seed bank;
  • Awarding/recognizing custodian farmers and community seedbanks at the national level;
  • Crop insurance (simplifying process);
  • Incentives and support to purchase agriculture tools (processing equipment, new technologies);
  • Provide technical support from the national genebank to all community seedbanks;
  • Support for conducting good management practices (e.g., diversity block, seed exchanges, registries);
  • The inclusion of farmers rights, especially of custodian farmers, in national policies, notably in the (draft) Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) bill;
  • Include the concept of community seedbank and its functions in the ABS draft bill as a mechanism for ensuring fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of crop genetic resources;
  • Develop a format to guarantee prior informed consent; and
  • Support the process of local variety registration by simplifying the process.

In the coming years, Bioversity International will collaborate with national partners and CCAFS to support the government of Nepal to find practical ways to implement this important policy agenda.

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