Community Seed Bank for Biodiversity Conservation in Nepal
Community seed banks is an approach for promoting conservation and sustainable use of traditional varieties and provide access to quality seeds and planting materials of diverse crops primarily to local farmers (Shrestha et al. 2018). It is also known as seed house, seed hut, seed library, and seed reserve. Community seed banks have emerged as an alternative to conserve local diversity as well as to make seeds accessible to all farming communities. It is dynamic system of conservation (conservation through utilization) and is considered a viable, effective and sustainable option for the conservation of agriculture genetic resources.
Function and services of a community seed bank:
- Promote conservation and use of landraces diversity that are rapidly being lost from the farmers’ field and natural habitat i.e. on farm conservation and use of landraces diversity and traditional knowledge.
- Create awareness and educate people on the importance of landraces diversity for current and future food and nutritional security i.e. empowerment of farmers’ and groups.
- Ensure farmers’ right on seed as defined in ITPGRFA.
- Supply locally produced quality seeds and planting materials of diverse crops and varieties (local and improved) i.e. easy access to quality seeds and planting materials.
- Strengthening local seed system, useful in the time of crisis.
- Food security, Food sovereignty, income and livelihoods.
- Farmers have selection option: seed bank as well as diversity blocks.
- Seed samples stored on the community seed bank are considered safety duplicates because many of these accessions are generally stored in the national genebank.
The first community seed bank was established in Nepal in 1995 and different organizations have been implementing and supporting community seed banks in a variety of ways and in different regions of the county. The count of community seed bank in the country currently exceeds a hundred. LI-BIRD started community bank intervention in 2003 and now there are 15 community seed banks in Nepal directly supported by LI-BIRD with funding support from various donor and partner agencies such as biodiversity International, The Development Fund (Norway) IDRC, UNDP/GEF and IFAD. The government of Nepal endorsed the concept of community seed bank through the budget speech of 2008/09 and thereafter, the Crop Development Directorate (CDD) of Department of agriculture development community seed bank implementation guideline in 2009 and has started establishing community seed banks in few districts.
Some examples of community seed banks in Nepal are:
- Shivagunj CSB: On farm conservation of local varieties.
- Kachorwa CSB, Bara: Among 110 existing rice variety 89 rice varieties are conserved here among these 89, 20 rice varieties are aromatic landraces of rice.
- Jungu CSB, Dolakha: Promotion of Panhelo Simi( has no fiber in pod, suitable for green pod and grain, grain pod yield 20.4 ton/ha etc.)
- Dhauligaad CBS, Jumla: Promotion of Lal marse( amaranthus), Rato kodo
- Chhipra CBS, Humla: Promotion, selection and utilization of Dudhe chino.
- Agyauli CBS, Nawalparasi: Seed production and marketing of improved rice variety.
The challenges encountered along the way for success of community seed bank are listed below:
- In community seed banks across the country, a number of local crop varieties have been collected and conserved by farming communities, but proper characterization and evaluation of those collections are largely yet to be done.
- Science-based technical guidelines for managing community seed banks do not yet exist despite almost 30 years of practical experience.
- The National Agrobiodiversity Policy has been in place in Nepal since 2007, but there are no acts or guidelines that support its implementation.
- Furthermore, our research and extension system are promoting improved varieties and technologies without considering the loss of genetic resources.
- There are no incentives from the government of Nepal to support community seed banks and the farmers who have been conserving valuable plant genetic resources on-farm.
- The rich biodiversity of local crops and associated traditional knowledge is unrecognized, underutilized and are under pressure of erosion from farmers field and natural habitat. This needs to be realized by research, extension and education agencies and change their course of action.
- Community seed banks is a proven approach to keep local crop diversity on farm and harness benefits. We need to advocate and promote one municipality one Community seed bank approach not only for promoting conservation but also to increase access to quality seeds and planting materials for smallholder farmers.
- Many local varieties can be registered/releases so that quality seeds of these varieties can be legally produced, sold/ distributed. There is also tremendous scope for promoting local variety based food items and generate income for the farmers.
Status of Local Crop Diversity in Nepal:
- 99% farmers are not aware on the importance of local crop diversity
- Low priority in research, extension and education.
- Continuous loss of local varieties traditional knowledge.
- High demand of local variety-based produces in market but supply is far below.
Crop Failure Cases in Nepal:
- Hybrid maize failure(2010): Throughout the terai districts.
- Bhaktapur rice failure(2013): 16 VDCs hit, farmers lost about NRs. 80 million.
- Garima rice failure(2019): Throughout the terai districts.
- Increased import and use of F1 seed, even unregistered.
The only solution and option is community seed bank which can cope such issues which help in awareness to farmer, to provide knowledge needed for research and extension services and to provide platform to the students carrying research. Hence, Community seed bank acts as the missing link in conservation chain which consists of seed collection from farmers or natural habitat and transfers to National Seed bank to International seed bank to Svalbard Global Seed Bank Vault, Norway. Thus, supporting two way flow of genetic resources.